A Warming World means less water with economic consequences

A Warming World means less water with economic consequences.

NPR Staff, May 22, 2016

The World Bank report says we also need to think about too little water, the potable sort. There are areas where water is readily available, like Central Africa and East Asia, it could become harder to find. And in areas like the Middle East, already facing water problems, scarcity will greatly worsen. The spikes in food prices a water shortage would cause, which in turn would likely lead to conflict, a great economic impacts could provoke the water scarcity. Growing populations, rising incomes, and expanding cities will converge upon a world where the demand for water rises exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain.

We often associate climate change with too much water, the melting ice caps triggering a rise in sea levels. Now a new World Bank report says we also need to think about too little water, the potable sort.

High and Dry: Climate Change, Water, and the Economy examine the future effects of diminishing water supplies on the world. “Water-related climate risks cascade through food, energy, urban, and environmental systems,” researchers write. “Growing populations, rising incomes, and expanding cities will converge upon a world where the demand for water rises exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain.”

The World Bank says that in areas where water is readily available, like Central Africa and East Asia, it could become harder to find. And in areas like the Middle East, already facing water problems, “scarcity will greatly worsen.” The authors also note the spikes in food prices a water shortage would cause, which in turn would likely lead to conflict.

These are all fairly evident consequences of global warming. The report treads new ground, however, in evaluating the economic impacts of this water scarcity. Researchers say water shortages could cause certain areas to lose as much as 6 percent of their gross domestic product “as a result of water-related losses in agriculture, health, income, and property.”

The report emphasizes three ways to mitigate the problems. The first is “better planning and incentives.” This involves things like using water prices and permits wisely to ensure water is used for “higher-value” purposes. The authors say that paradoxically, in societies where water is considered free, the poor end up paying more for it. Second, they advise expanding “water supply and availability,” through more dams, water recycling and even sometimes desalination. They finally advise ” ‘water proofing’ economies” to economic shocks. They advocate crop insurance for farmers and building walls and levees to protect cities from floods.

Richard Damania led the team that wrote the report. He joined NPR’s Michel Martin from Colombo in Sri Lanka, a country that has recently experienced water problems of its own, in the form of torrential rain and flooding. He talked more about what the report shows, why economies need water and why pricing water may be better for the world’s poor.

http://www.npr.org/2016/05/22/479084475/a-warming-world-means-less-water-with-economic-consequences

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