Climate Change, Water Scarcity and Consequences

Climate Change, Water Scarcity and Consequences
Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River in Arizona. The Colorado River flows through portions of seven states and Mexico. Most of its water is utilized to irrigate agricultural land southeast of the state’s Palo Verde, Imperial and Coachella valleys. Photo courtesy of The Commons

Fear of the damaging repercussions of climate change has increased worries that environmental deterioration and population pressures could force millions of people to leave their homes and cause severe social unrest.

According to most experts researching the potential effects of climate change, many countries throughout the world are projected to face greater temperatures, rising sea levels, shifting rainfall patterns and increased climate unpredictability, more severe storms, increased drought and threats to wildlife, all of which could impact a significant portion of the planet’s people.

Predictions of the next world war involving water instead of oil, land or other natural resources are increasingly common. Water can be figuratively viewed as the blood of the organic whole that makes up the world, according to Malin Falkenmark, a Swedish hydrologist.1 Water availability and use for domestic, industrial, agricultural and hydropower generation should be considered when governments formulate development strategy or policy.

Humanity’s demand for water is growing. Pressure on water resources is increasing due to overuse, pollution and climate change. The UN 2023 Water Conference, the most critical event on water in a generation, seeks to raise awareness of the global water crisis, exchange game-changing ideas and spur global action toward achieving the internationally agreed water-related goals and targets.

The UN General Assembly, which has 193 member countries, is the United Nations’ main decision-making body. It offers a special platform for bilateral discussion on every aspect of international affairs covered by the UN Charter.

Only 3% of the earth’s surface is covered by freshwater; the other 97% is saltwater. Barely 0.3% of the fresh water’s 3% total is found in rivers and lakes; the remainder is frozen in glaciers and ice caps. Fresh water is limited, but its uneven distribution is more so than its abundance on the earth’s surface. There would have been sufficient water if it had been distributed evenly for all imaginable human requirements.

According to Terje Tvedt, a Norwegian academic, “There is plenty of water in the world; the problem is that it is frequently either in the wrong place or available at the wrong time.”2

Water shortage is currently a problem in several U.S. states due to poor management of water resources and a lack of cooperation between cities and states. This could result in decreased agricultural productivity, which would either cause a food shortage or an increase in food prices.

Water and Food Security  

Water shortage is one of the most critical environmental problems of the 21st century and has caught the attention of both the United States and the rest of the world. World Water Day is marked annually on March 22 to encourage sustainable management of freshwater resources and to increase public awareness of the importance of clean water.

Speakers at the water conference concluded that there will be severe water shortages for two-thirds of the world’s population over the next 25 years because freshwater demand is 17% more than supply. In addition, the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., has warned that freshwater systems worldwide are in danger. By 2025, it is estimated that a billion people of the world’s population will experience water scarcity.3

Water demand to meet basic human needs, food security, energy and economic development while maintaining the integrity of aquatic ecosystems cannot be based strictly on efficiency criteria to reconcile private and societal interests. Furthermore, individuals, special interest groups, nonprofits, the private sector and government agencies respond differently to water-use imperatives. These stakeholders will increasingly influence choices between competing objectives.

The present state of affairs will eventually result in fierce conflicts. The status quo, which doesn’t guarantee equitable water distribution or make significant expenditures in water conservation measures, is primarily to blame for the absence of regional cooperation. This leads to an undeniable escalation of the worrying rate of environmental destruction.

The environment could eventually entirely disintegrate if prompt action is not taken to reverse the trend, severely affecting the quantity and quality of water sources in the United States.

Missouri is located in the center of the nation. In addition to the eight states that border it, Missouri shares water with 26 additional states and two Canadian provinces. Interstate streams include the Mississippi, Missouri and White rivers and their basins.

Each year, groundwater (underground water) provides 30% of California’s water needs. During instances of intense drought, the use of groundwater might rise by 60% or more. More than 850 million acre-feet (1,050 km3) of water might be stored in California’s 450 recognized groundwater reservoirs.

There is a greater need for water during the dry summer with less natural precipitation or melting. California’s unpredictable climate can result in prolonged droughts and significant flooding. These events can occur when atmospheric rivers, which have the potential to be dangerous yet are crucial to the state’s water supply, are present.

Throughout its 1,440 miles, the Colorado River flows through portions of seven states, numerous Native American reservations and Mexico. Legally speaking, California is entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet feet of river water annually.

Southern California’s metropolitan areas also rely heavily on the Colorado River, even though most of that water is utilized to irrigate agricultural land southeast of the state’s Palo Verde, Imperial and Coachella valleys. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California transports supplies to urban areas via the Colorado River Aqueduct.

Water responsibility is crucial to the growth of employment opportunities, scientific and technical advances, and the provision of basic needs such as food, health, education and shelter.

On the federal and state levels, governments in the United States face a serious issue with environmental degradation. This includes water-scarce regions, migration, settlement, deforestation, erosion, floods, sedimentation, land degradation, desertification, protracted drought, climate change, global warming, wildfires and sedimentation.

The national government must create and sustain effective agricultural and industrial development processes so that society can endure the stress caused by increasing food prices. To benefit everybody, governments must utilize their natural resources, especially water, before pursuing methodical and sustainable development. Water is a natural resource that all states have and is essential to the importance of agriculture and agro-based industries.

Finally, there is fear expressed by several sources that if the demand for fair distribution and water conservation is not addressed, the situation could deteriorate into a catastrophe. The states must negotiate and create a new water allocation based on the universal principle to reverse this tendency, set the groundwork for cooperation and optimally use their shared resources.

International Water Rights  

A fundamental guideline for using international watercourses is provided in Article 5 of the International Law Commission. It mandates equal participation of upstream and downstream states in the use, development and maintenance of a river.

The criteria set forth in Article 6 must be taken into account when determining whether usage is fair and reasonable.

“Obligation not to cause significant harm” in Article 7 serves as a restraint on riparian activity. States must use international watercourses responsibly to ensure that they do not significantly impair other riparian states.

Article 7 compels the state that caused the harm to consult with the affected states if significant harm still occurs. The procedure outlined in this article is designed to prevent significant harm as much as possible while ensuring a fair outcome in each individual circumstance. The commission’s draft provides mandatory resort to nonbinding third-party fact-finding to support the execution of these articles.

Following this core principle, each state should be able to accept and discuss its shared resources. Water shortages and conflicts over water resources are likely in the absence of a thorough planning process that takes changing environmental deterioration and water scarcity into account at the state level.

We must thoroughly consider all options in order to strike a balance between the demands of development and an unstable water supply.

To address the current water shortage, a framework that ties together strong interstate cooperation and coordination is required. This framework should encompass transboundary activities such as new water allocation, capacity building, training, education, raising awareness, knowledge and information sharing, communications and environmental monitoring.

The lack of a structure to promote knowledge and information sharing among stakeholders creates the possibility of a serious interstate conflict over the shared water resources.

***

References

1. Falkenmark, M. (1990, May). Global water issues confronting humanity. Journal of Peace Research, 27(2), 177–190.

2. Tvedt, T. (1992)

3. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.

Author

  • Debay Tadesse

    Debay Tadesse, Ph.D., graduated with a B.A. in world history from Georgia State University and an M.A. in African history and a Ph.D. in African studies with a focus on public policy and development from Howard University. He is currently a lecturer at Fresno City College and Fresno State.

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Homer Greene MA
Homer Greene MA
6 months ago

This is an excellent essay! Well done!!!

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