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Where the World is Running Out of Water

August 8, 2019
Plain English Version

New York Times

BANGALORE, India — Water keeps us alive. When it runs out, we have a problem.

About one out of four people on the planet are facing a shortage of water.

Seventeen countries around the world are dealing with high-water stress. This means they are using almost all the water they have access to.

Many are dry countries. Some waste much of their water. Some may currently use too much of their groundwater that they should be saving.

Several big cities face acute shortages. These include São Paulo, Brazil; Chennai, India; and Cape Town, South Africa. A year ago, Cape Town faced Day Zero — the day when all its dams would be dry.

An expert said, “We are likely to see more of these Day Zeros in the future. The picture is alarming in many places around the world.”

Climate change adds to the risk of water shortages. Rainfall is less steady. The water supply becomes less reliable. The days grow hotter. More water evaporates from reservoirs even as demand for water increases.

Mexico City is using groundwater so fast that the city is sinking. Dhaka, Bangladesh relies on its groundwater for its residents and garment factories. It now draws water from water aquifers hundreds of feet below the surface.

In Chennai, India thirsty residents relied on groundwater. Now they find there is no groundwater left. Farmers in India and Pakistan are draining aquifers. They use the water on water-intensive crops like cotton and rice.

By 2030, the number of cities in the high-stress category may rise to 45 and include almost 470 million people.

All over the world, farmers compete with city residents for water. Rich urban places, such as Los Angeles, use too much water for pools and golf courses. But the worst problem is the growth of cities. For example, consider Bangalore, India. First, they had a few years with little rain. It built over its many lakes or filled them with city waste. The lakes are no longer the rainwater storage tanks they once were. Bangalore now imports water. A lot of the imported water gets lost on the way to Bangalore

What to do? First, cities can plug leaks in their water distribution system. Wastewater can be recycled. Rain can be harvested and saved for lean times. Lakes and wetlands can be cleaned up and old wells can be restored. And farmers can switch from water-intensive crops like rice. Instead, they can grow less-thirsty crops like millet.

Experts are looking at ways to reduce the number of people on the planet. They are looking at ways to reduce the size of cities. They are looking for ways to encourage people, factories, and farmers to use less water.

The world faces climate change, less rain, more people. The future is sure to be a challenge.

Source: The New York Times August 6, 2019







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