According to a report released Tuesday by the World Resources Institute (WRI), 25% of the world’s population across 17 countries faces “extremely high” water stress, meaning they are using more than 80% of the water they have every year.
The report found that Qatar is the globe's most water-stressed country, followed by Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, the United Arab Emirates, San Marino, Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Oman and Botswana.
Twelve out of the 17 countries facing extremely high water stress are in the Middle East and North Africa, but India, which ranked as the 13th most water stressed country, is three times more populous than the other 16 countries on the list combined.
The Indian city of Chennai has been in the spotlight this year over its ongoing water crisis: in June, city officials revealed that “Day Zero” had been reached, as the four main reservoirs that provide the city with water had gone dry.
“Millions of people are facing right now the effects of climate [change] and the ways that climate change exacerbates hundreds of years of really extreme and non-sustainable forms of industrial development,” Dean told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.
“Some of these water crises wouldn’t be quite so bad if there had been larger, more planned practices of sustainably developing the areas rather than just rampant, fast growth just for the sake of making some profits of building a company here or building some high rises there.”
“So one of the things that’s so tragic is that there are ways that this did not have to happen if there had been sustainable practices before, and now places that have had to rush to develop are facing the worst kinds of effects from this warming climate,” she said.
“The situation is getting more severe, and there could have been steps that could have been taken over a period of decades to adapt more, to try to develop what are called sponge cities, to try and develop areas that actually absorb the water … and more rationally develop these communities,” Magdoff said.
The World Future Council defines sponge cities as “a particular type of city that does not act like an impermeable system, not allowing any water to filter through the ground, but, more like a sponge, actually absorbs the rain water, which is then naturally filtered by the soil and allowed to reach into the urban aquifers.”
“So, when you put the two together, that is, rampant development that gave no thought whatsoever to the potential for water shortages, and you put that together with a situation where water shortages are becoming more common for long periods of time, you have a crisis,” Magdoff explained.
Although the US as a whole ranked 71st on the WRI list, several states, including New Mexico and California, were found to have high levels of water stress, with the former’s level being comparable to the UAE’s. That means that almost a quarter of the world’s population - around 1.7 billion people - are experiencing or will soon experience severe drought issues.
“I think that’s a really important point to recognize: that the catastrophe is here. One of the things that is so remarkable about the really significant water crisis in parts of India and parts of the Middle East is when we keep in mind these were areas subject to British colonialism and other forms of colonialism. India in particular - the British industrial practices replaced practices that they [India] had that were much more sustainable, much more responsive to the climate, much more mindful of the need to conserve water. And then when the British practices came in, they really disrupted the forms of water conservation that had a long history. So it’s not accidental that the places are seeing these worst kind of catastrophic effects are those that have essentially had colonial and industrial practices of production attached to them,” Dean explained.
With water scarcity severely impacting the lives of people, increased protests and higher water prices can both be expected.
“I think we should all expect as these crises intensify that people aren't going to be able to take it any longer, and we will start to see people pushing back. We have already seen some of that in India, as people have been protesting the water shortages and the rationing. I would expect we would also start to see city and state governments respond aggressively to the upheaval that will necessarily and rightly accompany the anger as people realize that water, in a lot of places, is privatized … Water prices will continue to jack up,” Dean told Sputnik.
Increased water stress is undeniably linked to migration, as people attempt to escape dangerous circumstances or poverty-stricken areas, Magdoff pointed out.
“The Syrian civil war started [after] four years of drought, where farmers from the rural areas moved into the cities, destabilized the country. Migrations from Central America have [led to] some significant drought over the last few years, and you have had farmers who just basically can’t grow their crops. And you combine this with political instability basically resulting from US interventions there for the last 30 to 40 years, and you have very good reasons for people to migrate. They just can’t live at home,” Magdoff explained.
Another report released Thursday by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that better land management could mitigate climate change, highlighting the role degraded land plays in global warming.
“When land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. This exacerbates climate change, while climate change in turn exacerbates land degradation in many different ways,” a Thursday press release explains.
“In the report that came out just this week on land use and food use from the IPCC, one of the things that’s interesting in there is that they recognize there can be ways to respond to, to adapt to, to mitigate the worst effects if there is action on a sweeping scale. It lets us know that socioeconomic choices can reduce the effects of climate change, or they can exacerbate the effects of climate change. We can’t turn back the clock, but we can keep things from getting worse if we respond appropriately,” Dean explained.
Magdoff agreed, stressing the role that capitalism plays in climate change.
“I don't know if [damage from climate change] is fully reversible, but certainly a lot can be done. I think the main thing [is] the way decisions are made in our society,” he said. “Somehow we have to make decisions in which the environment and humanity come into the decision-making process. Right now, decisions are made, with regard to doing almost anything, on the basis of profit. Can you make money out of it? If you can make money out of it, good. If you can’t make money out of it, not good. That’s the way capitalism functions. Somehow we need to get to a system in which there is a mechanism for taking the environment into account in the decision-making process and taking social issues into account.”