Climate Action

To solve water scarcity and climate change, we must act now

Earlier this week, United Nations recognized its World Water Day with the theme “Water and Climate Change.”

This year, the U.N. emphasized the urgent need to act on water scarcity, while highlighting the uphill battle we have ahead of us: As climate change intensifies, the water scarcity crisis becomes more complex.

“It could be said that water supply is the ultimate victim of climate change, whether resulting in scarcity of water or floods,” said Mona Alalawi, President of the Bahrain Women Association for Human Development.

Rising temperatures have increased water evaporation all over the world, creating more erratic rainfall. This rainfall interrupts regular agricultural cycles, with floods in some seasons and severe drought in others. Even if floods create an influx of water in a region, they come with environmental backlash: Floods can cause intense erosion, making water sources undrinkable and destroying crop fields.

Though water covers 72% of our planet’s surface, only 3% of that water is freshwater. And two-thirds of freshwater is trapped in frozen glaciers and icecaps.

According to the U.N., 1.1 billion people around the world consistently lack access to water, and 2.7 billion experience water scarcity for at least one month of the year. These communities often endure extended periods with limited water and take long journeys in search of new sources.

Should society continue to ignore water scarcity, especially as the world experiences the severe consequences of climate change, we’ll be in big trouble, said Alalawi.

In other words, it’s time to sound the alarm and conserve our water supply.

Water conservation now

While shorter showers and turning off the faucet while washing dishes will help, 92% of human water usage comes from agriculture and industry. We must, therefore, use more renewable energy, choose energy-efficient and water-conserving household appliances, create more efficient irrigation systems and grow crops that need less water, said Alalawi.

Though many regions haven’t reached crisis level yet, six out of 10 people worldwide are expected to lack regular water access by 2050. So why haven’t we taken action yet? Basically, those with the power to enact this change don’t realize the global scale of water scarcity, said Alalawi.

“The fortunate masses who have easy access to water do not feel that they are impacting and are impacted by the world’s total water reserves,” she said.

Water scarcity is not just one isolated problem, though — it’s global: California and Australia have been ravaged by wildfires in the face of long droughts; the Colorado River — which provides water to 30 million people and 3.5 million agricultural acres — is at its lowest levels in recorded history; and Europe already imports nearly 40% of their water from other countries, leaving it vulnerable to scarcity even outside its own borders.

“We cannot afford to wait and fall into a crisis to realize that we are all connected and that our actions impact others,” said Alalawi. “We must work together right now to stop this water scarcity disaster.”

Just as climate change has taken decades to reach global crisis levels, so too has water scarcity. But if we act now, we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and plan ahead for the future of Earth’s freshwater.

On April 22, for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, millions will mobilize digitally to demand climate action to protect our planet and water sources. Will you join us?