Originally posted on the Vancouver Sun
“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.” — Pericles
Every year on March 22, World Water Day raises global awareness about the importance of freshwater. The theme for this year’s World Water Day is “water and climate change.”
Globally, 98 per cent of water is salt and two per cent is fresh. In 2020, 800 million global citizens have no clean water source in their home, village or community. That number is expected to reach two billion by 2050. Four countries are particularly struck by water insecurity and climate change: Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Australia.
Egypt, with a population of 81 million, relies on the revered Nile River as its water source. The harsh climate change impacts confronting Egypt include drought, sea-level rise, extreme temperature, sandstorms, heatwaves, and desertification. Only four per cent of the landmass of the country is inhabited and the population is projected to double by 2100. The country receives an average annual rainfall of 80 mm and only six per cent of the land is arable, with the Nile supplying 97 per cent of the nation’s water.
According to one study: “Egypt is facing an annual water deficit of seven billion cubic meters. By the year 2020, the country will be consuming 20 per cent more water than it has and the United Nations is already warning that Egypt could face extreme water scarcity by 2025.” Moreover, plans by Ethiopia, an upriver country, to dam the Nile for massive hydroelectric projects will negatively impact Egyptian water security. The project has polarized relations between the two states.
India is the most populous country in the world and projected to have 1.6 billion citizens by 2050. The population is hit by massive climate change assaults from drought, floods, sea-level rise, water insecurity, extreme heat, and extreme weather. Currently, India ranks 129th on the Human Development Index with approximately 224 million citizens living below the international poverty line of US$1.90 per day. Water tables have dramatically fallen from 4,500 in 1950 to 1,500 meters in 2017.
As noted in a recent analysis, “700 million out of over 1 billion population living in rural areas directly depends on climate-sensitive sectors, (agriculture, forests, and fisheries) and natural resources (such as water, biodiversity, mangroves, coastal zones, grasslands) for their subsistence and livelihoods. Heatwaves, floods (land and coastal), and droughts occur commonly. Millions of Indian citizens in New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, and other cities and towns are struggling with chronic water shortages that imperil health and development.
Additionally, 26 per cent of the Indian labour force depends upon agriculture, which is struggling with water shortages that restrict proper irrigation.
In Indonesia, climate change has increased the frequency of both floods and droughts. Currently, 27 million people (10 per cent of the population) in Indonesia do not have access to clean drinking water. Last year, Indonesia experienced the worst droughts since 2015, with 11 provinces going without rain for more than seven months.
Other parts of the country have experienced torrential rain. According to the country’s Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency, climate change was the main driver of the heavy rain that caused floods in Jakarta over the past few months, killing more than 60 people and displacing 175,000. Increased floods exacerbate pollution and diseases, putting millions of people at risk.
Climate change also threatens water security in rich countries. Most recently, Australia experienced what may be the worst droughts in 400 years. In its drought strategy report that was published last year, the Australian government suggests climate change will continue to increase the severity and frequency of droughts in some parts of Australia and they may become more “marginal and unproductive.”
Climate change will also reduce water availability in Australian cities. One study found that Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, will experience water shortages if the global temperature rise reaches 2 degrees C. To mitigate this risk, the Australian government must significantly increase its desalination capacity. However, desalination will come with serious economic and environmental costs.
The water crises in Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Australia are only a few examples of how climate change is threatening water security for millions of people around the world.
Dr. Ross Michael Pink is a political science professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey. He is the author of Water Rights in Southeast Asia and The Climate Change Crisis: Solutions and Adaption for a Planet in Peril; Luthfi Dhofier is a policy analyst in Vancouver, BC. He holds a Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs from UBC. The pair co-founded Global Water Rights in 2013 to promote water rights and security.