BOSTON, Massachusetts — The United Nations Development Program recently released its 2014 Human Development Report, warning of the dangers of the effects of climate change. Risks associated with climate change seem to be intensifying, including droughts in arid regions. The report states that climate change “will also lead to rising sea levels, flooding, water scarcity in key regions, the migration or extinction of plant and animal species, and the acidification of oceans.”
Despite the long list of possible outcomes, the most worrisome side effect of climate change troubles is undoubtedly the issue of water scarcity.
Water scarcity is defined as “the point at which the aggregate impact of all users impinges on the supply of quality of water under prevailing institutional arrangements to the extent that the demand by all sectors, including the environment, cannot be satisfied fully.” In today’s world, this relative scarcity is becoming a product of altered supply patterns caused by climate change.
Water scarcity affects people on every continent. Nearly 1.2 billion people, about one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of scarcity and another 500 million people are at risk of this situation. Water usage has increased at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century.
This issue is both natural and man-made. Although there is enough freshwater on the planet today for seven billion people, it is distributed unevenly and there is too much water supplies wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.
The United Nations predicts that with existing climate change factors, almost half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 and 250 million people in Africa alone. The U.N. is confident that water scarcity in arid regions will displace millions of individuals.
A recent UNDP report in Tokyo titled “Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience” addressed the issue of water scarcity, unsafe water and poor hygiene practices. The countries where these issues are the most pressing include Niger, Nigeria, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Ethiopia and Uganda.
The report included commentary on the dangers of climate change written by Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Plan on Climate Change, who stressed that it is in fact developing countries that are the most vulnerable. From 2000 to 2012, more than 200 million people in developing countries were harmed by natural disasters including floods and droughts.
Communities that depend greatly on agriculture will feel the effects of climate change the most, especially in South Asia. In India alone, there are 93 million small farms. Changes in temperature in rainfall will surely shake these populations.
If water scarcity continues to increase on a global scale, as many politicians and world leaders alike have forewarned, there may one day be widespread violence and wars over this precious natural resource.
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark optimistically commented on the future prospects of the issue. She explained, “Setbacks are not inevitable. While every society is vulnerable to risk, some suffer far less harm and recover more quickly than others when adversity strikes. By addressing vulnerabilities, all people may share in development progress and human development will become increasingly equitable and sustainable.”
Although the predictions made by the UNDP and other non-governmental organizations around the world are bleak in regards to the effect of climate change, this does not mean that the leaders of these organizations are willing to stand by and see if they come true.
Director of the Human Development Report Office Khalid Malik explained, “The world itself is getting a little bit more fractious, a little less predictable… It’s at both the country level and it’s also on the global level. And this report [the 2014 Human Development Report]tries to dig into those issues of vulnerability and then try to understand what policies, what measures are needed to make people and societies more resilient.”
– Cambria Arvizo