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Extreme weather events threaten life & economies amid global water crisis

Climate change & human interference causing large-scale disruptions to global water cycle. Over 3.6 billion people facing water scarcity

By groundreportdesk
New Update
Extreme weather events threaten life & economies amid global water crisis

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has issued a stark warning about the state of the Earth’s water resources. According to its latest report, ‘State of Global Water Resources 2022’, climate change and human interference are causing large-scale disruptions to the Earth’s water cycle, with humans bearing the brunt of the consequences.

The report paints a grim picture of the global water crisis. Currently, around 3.6 billion people worldwide face water scarcity for at least one month each year. This figure is projected to rise to 5 billion within the next 27 years. Countries like India and South Africa are already grappling with severe water crises.

Extreme weather threatens life, Economies

Extreme weather events, such as droughts and heavy rains, are wreaking havoc on life and economies. The melting snow and shrinking glaciers on mountains like the Himalayas and Alps are increasing the risks of flood disasters, gradually depleting the water resources available to millions of people and potentially leading to serious future consequences.

The report, which utilized data from satellites, ground surveys, modelling, and remote sensing, provides detailed information on major water-related factors such as groundwater, underground flow, evaporation, river flow, soil moisture, frozen water sources (cryosphere), reservoirs and their flow, surface water reserves, and water-related disasters.

Professor Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of WMO, commented on the report: “This report presents a comprehensive and consistent assessment of water resources around the world, highlighting the impacts of climate, environmental and social change on water resources.”

He added: "Glaciers and snow cover are shrinking before our eyes. Rising temperatures are not only accelerating but also disrupting the water cycle. The warmer atmosphere brings excess moisture, which leads to heavy rains and floods. On the other hand, increasing evaporation is causing soil drying, leading to severe drought conditions.”

In 2022, conditions were different from normal in more than half of the world’s reservoirs and watersheds. The flow of rivers was also different from what was expected. Most reservoirs and catchment areas were drier than normal. In contrast, some areas remained very wet.

Furthermore, in 2022, water flow in more than 60 percent of large reservoirs was normal or less. This is making it difficult to supply water for all in the changing climate. Changes in soil moisture and evaporation in 2022 were also similar to those in river flow.

Himalaya melting glaciers impact billions

Extreme heat and drought during the summer in Europe have led to increased evaporation, resulting in reduced soil moisture and river water. This has created significant challenges for agriculture and even forced the shutdown of power plants due to insufficient water for cooling.

The third pole, encompassing the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Pamir, and Tien Shan mountains, is crucial for supplying water to approximately 2 billion people. However, from 2000 to 2018, these glaciers have seen a reduction in ice volume by more than four percent. This decrease in snow cover and increase in glacial lakes have affected river flows in the Indus, Amu Darya, Yangtze, and Yellow River regions, demonstrating the impact of climate change on the region.

In 2022, snow accumulation in the Alps was significantly lower than normal. These mountains are vital to rivers like the Rhine, Danube, Rhone, and Po. During this period, the ice stored in Alpine glaciers also suffered substantial damage.

A similar trend has been observed in the subtropical Andes since 2009 with less winter snowfall. This has affected water sources in cities across Chile and western Argentina. Despite slightly above-average snowfall in some places in 2022, it was still below normal at important water sources. As a result, water restrictions had to be imposed in populous cities.

Climate change impacts global disasters

The changing climate and rising temperatures are altering the nature of disasters worldwide. The La Plata river basin in South America has been experiencing drought since 2020, leading to a significant decline in hydropower production in 2022. In Paraguay, there were multiple instances of water supply shortages during 2022.

In contrast, the Indus River Basin of Pakistan witnessed massive floods that claimed at least 1,700 lives and affected 33 million people. Experts estimate the economic loss from this disaster to be over $3 billion. They believe a heatwave earlier in the year caused the flood, resulting in significant glacier meltwater flowing into the river.

Heavy monsoon rains in July and August, which were more than double the norm, led to similar situations in India and Bangladesh. Floods and lightning incidents in India claimed the lives of an additional 700 people, and authorities had to relocate 1.3 million people. Similarly, the floods affected around 7 million people in Bangladesh.

China experienced drought conditions that affected 50 million people. Tropical storms in the Philippines claimed the lives of 350 people. In Brazil, heavy rains and landslides resulted in 230 fatalities. Floods in Africa’s Sahel region affected 3.4 million people, with Nigeria alone reporting 600 deaths due to flooding.

The report warns that the La Nina event in 2022 followed by El Nino in 2023 could significantly impact the water cycle.

Despite these challenges, WMO states that there is insufficient information about the true state of global freshwater resources, which is a significant problem. More research is needed for accurate information and solutions, especially in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

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