The number and duration of extreme water shortages around the world have increased by almost a third in just 20 years, a new drought study shows.
t says more than 2.3 billion people will face water scarcity this year, and in just eight years an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of having to leave their home regions to find water.
By 2050, more than three-quarters of the world’s population could be affected by droughts, and up to 5.7 billion people will live in severely affected areas for at least a month each year.
The effects are already global, with 12 million hectares of land lost to drought and desertification each year.
The warnings come from a “Drought by the Numbers” report by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said: “The facts and figures all point in the same direction – an upward trend in the duration of droughts and the severity of the impacts, affecting not only human societies but also the ecosystems on which all life survives based dependent, including that of our own species.”
According to the report, the number and duration of droughts has increased by 29 percent since 2000, with 1.4 billion people experiencing extreme water stress during that time.
From 1970 to 2019, droughts accounted for 15 percent of natural disasters but took the greatest toll, killing about 650,000 people.
This year alone, 160 million children have been exposed to severe and prolonged drought.
The report comes as representatives from many of the 196 countries that have signed up to the convention gather in West Africa’s Ivory Coast to call for arms to tackle current drought crises and stave off growing threats.
“We are now at a crossroads,” Mr Thiaw said. “We must steer towards solutions instead of continuing with destructive actions because we believe that small changes can heal systemic failures.”
Mr Thiaw called for a complete change in the international response to the problem, from reactive and crisis-based to proactive and risk-based.
He said restoring land is key, and that would require a drastic reduction in meat consumption and a big shift to a plant-based diet.
During the 10-day gathering, millions are displaced and face famine in Somalia and Kenya after four seasons with little or no rain.
African countries have suffered the most frequent droughts, but the report shows global impacts and warns of worse.
In Europe, 45 major drought events were recorded in the last century, affecting millions of people.
Annual losses from disruptions to agriculture and other sectors in the EU currently cost around €9 billion and are expected to escalate.
“Today, on average, 15 percent of the land area and 17 percent of the population in the European Union are affected by drought every year,” the reports say.
The impacts on ecosystems are severe. During the summer drought of 2003, photosynthesis in European plants collapsed by 30 percent.
As a result of the “millennium drought” in Australia from 2002 to 2010, agricultural production fell by 18%.
The meeting hopes to agree better drought responses, including earlier early warning and funding, to help hardest-hit countries protect themselves against the threat.
https://www.independent.ie/news/environment/worlds-water-shortages-up-almost-a-third-in-20-years-41641336.html Global water scarcity has increased by almost a third in 20 years