Drought and Water, War and Peace
This is article is part of a four-part series that examines the centrality of water supply for maintaining a large human population and keeping us from fighting over it in the latter part of the 21stcentury. It first looks at the present day, our starting point, and the demands that increasing population places on the water supply. Then it examines possible growth scenarios that can occur if we act responsibly but also if we don’t take the situation seriously. We then look at what it takes to desalinate sea water, the ultimate source of all freshwater and we’ll look at some of the 15,000 or so places on earth that already desalinate at least some of their water supply. Finally, in part four, we’ll examine what it takes to get to a solution.
Drought and its opposite, abundant water availability, could become the 21stcentury equivalent of last century’s war and peace. If we’re unlucky and ignore the impending problem these pairs could become additive. But unlike other aspects of climate change, water needs are so immediate that they can’t be ignored, and many nations are already working to supplement their natural water supplies.
It’s surprising to learn that the US with 13 percent of global desalination output, is in third place among nations that desalinate sea water behind only Saudi Arabia (17 percent of global output), and the United Arab Emirates (13.4 percent).
Many countries are heavily dependent on desalination, though in smaller quantities and Israel is a prime example. Some 80 percent of the fresh water used by Israeli cities originates in the sea.
But many nations are not as lucky. In 2017 the World Resources Institute warned that 33 countries face extremely high water stress in 2040. Those countries include Nigeria, Somalia, and Iran. In addition, there’s Cape Town, South Africa. A story in the New York Times said that Cape Town, South Africa, would run out of fresh water at least temporarily in April 2018 and reported that the government was working with all deliberate speed to build a desalination plant and to plan for disorder if water ran out.
Luckily strong rains in June led to refilling the reservoirs but significant water restrictions during the emergency also played a…