Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Ongoing Water Stress

Obviously, the water scarcity has been caused by inadequate natural water resources; that led to socio-economic pain. Drought, badly managed pumping, leaky pipes in municipal water systems, outdated infrastructure, inadequate technology, rising population, and the demand for more food production are collectively responsible for the increased pumping of groundwater. Flood irrigation despite its inefficiency dominates irrigation method worldwide. The aquifers have long served as a backup to help the regions through droughts and warm winters lacking enough snowmelt to replenish rivers and streams. The result is the world’s largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas are under stress. Nearly two billion people rely on the threatened groundwater.
India has been suffering from a severe drought that has forced millions of farmers to rely more heavily on groundwater. The Indus Basin aquifer, in northwestern India and Pakistan, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in North Africa, are the second and third most overstressed systems, respectively.
In India, the world’s largest consumer of groundwater, the government subsidizes electricity – an incentive to farmers to keep pumping.
Over the past three decades, Saudi Arabia has been drilling for a resource more precious than oil. Engineers and farmers have tapped hidden reserves of water to grow grains, fruits, and vegetables in the one of the driest places in the world. The new studies found that the Arabian Aquifer System  serves more than 60 million people across Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and parts of Jordan, Iraq and Syria, hence is the world’s most overstressed groundwater source.
Richard Damania, a lead economist at the World Bank, predicts that without adequate water supplies, economic growth in the most stressed parts of the world could decline by six percent of GDP. His findings conclude that the most severe impacts of climate change will deplete water supplies.
But few things are more difficult to control than groundwater pumping, Damania says.
In the United States, farmers are withdrawing water at unsustainable rates from the High Plains, or Ogallala Aquifer, even though they have been aware of the threat for six decades. As regions and nations run short of water, Damania says, economic growth will decline and food prices will spike, raising the risk of violent conflict and waves of large migrations.
The water crisis is responsible for unrest in Yemen as it heavily taps into groundwater; there were water riots in 2009. Some experts blame the water-scarcity for helping destabilize Syria and launch its civil war. More than a half-million Syrian left for refuge.
Jordan, which relies on aquifers as its only source of water, is even more water-stressed.
Moreover, Beijing continues to be sinking. In some neighborhoods, the ground is giving way at a rate of four inches a year as water from the giant aquifer below is pumped out. Tapping into the gigantic North China Plain aquifer, is the world’s fifth most water-stressed city and its water related problems are likely to get even worse. The fact is groundwater has been so depleted that China’s capital city, home to more than 20 million people, could face serious disruptions in its rail system, roadways, and building foundations as concluded by an international team of scientists. China, however, is working to regulate pumping.
Nevertheless, Beijing isn’t the only place experiencing subsidence, or sinking, as soil collapses into space created as groundwater is depleted. Parts of Shanghai, Mexico City and other cities are sinking too. Sections of California’s Central Valley have dropped by a foot, and in some localized areas, by as much as 28 feet.
Around the world, eyes are now opening because the depletion of underground water supplies is taking place. The United Nations predicts a global shortfall in water by 2030. About 30 percent of the planet’s available freshwater is in the aquifers that underlie every continent.
Jay Famiglietti, lead scientist on a 2015 study using NASA satellites to record changes in the world’s 37 largest aquifers, says that the ones under the greatest threat are in the most heavily populated areas. "Without sustainable groundwater Reserves, global security is at far greater risk,” he says. “As the dry parts are getting drier, we will rely on groundwater even more heavily. The implications are just staggering and really need to be discussed at the international level.”
Also, in 2015, scientists at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada concluded that less than six percent of groundwater above one-and-a-half miles in the Earth’s landmass is renewable within a human lifetime. When water levels drop below to 50 feet or less, it is often not economically practical to pump water to the surface, and much of that water is brackish or contains so many minerals that it is unusable. The Northern Great Plains Aquifer, which stretches across the U.S. and parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, fared better than others, according to a depletion map published alongside the reports.
Just over 30 per cent of Canadians, or 8.9 million people, rely on groundwater for domestic use, and that is just below the national average in Ontario at 28.5 per cent, according to government statistics.
Groundwater consumption is more widespread in Canada’s rural communities than in cities, Howard said. Prince Edward Island relies entirely on groundwater, he added, and Kitchener-Waterloo is another place that highly depends on it. Howard said that while the NASA reports’ findings were not entirely new, they serve as ‘a wake-up call’ that additional data is needed to protect this underground resource.
In Western Australia, desalinated water has been injected to recharge the large aquifer that Perth, Australia's driest city, taps for drinking water.
In west Texas, the city of Abernathy is drilling into a deeper aquifer that lies beneath the High Plains aquifer and mixing the two to supplement the municipal water supply.
Though depleted groundwater is a slow-speed crisis, there's still time to develop new technologies to counter the menace; that’s the only way to eliminate threat of famine and the possible future water wars.

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