World grapples with severe water scarcity; India leads the way

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Picture courtesy - World Meteorological Organisation

Indians make up for most of the nearly two-thirds of the world’s population that has to battle with moderate to severe water scarcity at least one month every year, making maintenance of blue water footprint one of the biggest challenges for humanity, a new global study has found.

In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Arjen Hoekstra and his colleague Mesfin Mekonnen said that 71 percent of the global population, or 4.3 billion people, lives under conditions of moderate to severe water scarcity.

Of these 4.0 billion people, 1.0 billion live in India and another 0.9 billion live in China. Significant populations facing severe water scarcity during at least part of the year further live in Bangladesh (130 million), the United States (130 million, mostly in western states such as California and southern states such as Texas and Florida), Pakistan (120 million, of which 85 percent are in the Indus basin), Nigeria (110 million), and Mexico (90 million), they said.

The researchers have designed a computer model to create what they is a more accurate picture of water scarcity across regions and the finding that two-thirds of the world population experience severe scarcity, during at least part of the year, implies that the situation is worse than suggested by previous studies, which give estimates between 1.7 and 3.1 billion.

Severe water scarcity has serious implications, as it can trigger crop failure and poor yields that in turn could lead to food price increases, famines and also widespread starvations.

The study said that the number of people facing severe water scarcity for at least 4 to 6 months per year is 1.8 to 2.9 billion. Half a billion people face severe water scarcity all year round.

“Of those half-billion people, 180 million live in India, 73 million in Pakistan, 27 million in Egypt, 20 million in Mexico, 20 million in Saudi Arabia, and 18 million in Yemen. In the latter two countries, it concerns all people in the country, which puts those countries in an extremely vulnerable position,” it said.

Other countries in which a very large fraction of the population experiences severe water scarcity year-round are Libya and Somalia (80 to 90% of the population) and Pakistan, Morocco, Niger, and Jordan (50 to 55% of the population), the study said.

“Meeting humanity’s increasing demand for freshwater and protecting ecosystems at the same time, thus maintaining blue water footprints within maximum sustainable levels per catchment, will be one of the most difficult and important challenges of this century,” the researchers said.

An important part of a response strategy to reduce the pressure on limited blue water resources will be to raise productivity in rain-fed agriculture, the study said, adding that tt will be important that governments and companies formulate water footprint benchmarks based on best available technology and practice

 

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