New research shows that we are perhaps headed towards a greater water crisis than previously expected. Water and climate change are inextricably linked, as climate change affects the wold’s water in many complex ways. Rising sea levels, severe droughts or floods, unpredictable rainfall patterns and many more water-related downfalls of climate change.
Earlier, we already wrote about the plastic soup problem, leading to more plastics than fish in the oceans if we continue heading this way. All part of the same global problem of overproduction, climate change and diminishing flows of fresh (clean) water. Now, it turnes out that previous models have possibly underestimated the sensitivity of water availability in a warming climate. Meaning that our water crisis is possibly more dire as we previously expected.
The water crisis explained
Before we dive into the topic of a global water crisis 2.0, it is good to take a broader view of the water crisis and provide you with some insights. So, what is the water crisis about?
The water crisis is related to water scarcity that limits access to safe water for drinking and basic hygiene.
Clean, healthy drinking water is a luxury that not everyone has access to. And in the near future, this issue will only spread, due to our inefficient way of water-use and neglecting our nature. Polarization, overloading production processes on a (too) large scale, and single-use plastics are all part of the water crisis, as they have a direct and indirect effect on our environment and our supply of fresh water.
Clean water can be scarce. Water can be contaminated and with a multitude of contaminations like microplastics or PFAS (something you frequently heard in the news lately). But water itself can be sparse as well. For example due to extreme droughts or floods and sewage systems failures. The main reason for this is global warming and climate change.
When water becomes scarce, it becomes more expensive. And that is something that only the wealthy can afford.
Climate change and the direct influences water
Most impacts of climate change come down to water. Both water scarcity and water-related hazards as floods and droughts affect the entire water flow of the world. By disrupting weather patterns, climate change can lead to extreme weather events, unpredictable water available or quality, water scarcity and the contamination of water supplies.
New models needed to predict climate impact on water supply
Climate change affects precipitation and evaporation all round the world. This influences the amount of river water that can be used locally. Something that is not calculated properly in the current water crisis and can lead to a greater water crisis than previously expected.
The climate impact on streamflow has been estimated using projections from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). However, previous models underestimated the sensitivity of water in a warming climate as they have a hard time drawing global conclusions from individual observations.
How the water balance depends on external parameters varies locally. For example the local vegetation plays an important role related to precipitation, temperature and the availability of water. Researchers have a difficult time to connect all the dots and calculate these interrelations at all places in the world.
A new study led by the Vienna University of Technology, analyzed data of streamflow observations from 9.500 hydrological catchments around the world. The results suggest that the climate impacts on the water supply have been underestimated in many parts of the wold. Especially Africa, Australia and North America have a higher risk of water supply crisis by 2050.
6 facts you should know about water and the global climate problem
We need to be smarter with water. And we all have a role to play to prevent a water crisis that we cannot solve. This can be with small steps, for instance by using our water dispensers to allow yourself purified and filtered water without using any packaging and plastic bottles.
Currently, climate change is primarily felt through water. Or moreover: the risk of not having enough clean water.
Below are some water crisis fact in relation with the global climate problem. Source: Unicef.
Around 74% of natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 were water-related, including droughts and floods. The frequency and intensity of such events are only expected to increase with climate change.
Extreme weather events and changes in water cycle patterns are making it more difficult to access safe drinking water, especially for the most vulnerable.
Rising temperatures can lead to deadly pathogens in freshwater sources, making the water dangerous for people to drink.
Climate change exacerbates water stress – areas of extremely limited water resources – leading to increased competition for water, even conflict.
By 2040, almost 1 in 4 children will live in areas of extremely high water stress.
Rising sea levels are causing fresh water to become salty, compromising the water resources millions of people rely on.