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A malnourished cow walks past huts in rural Masvingo, Zimbabwe, January 21, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)

Gripped by Climate Disruption, World on Brink of Global Water Crisis

Rising demand combined with increasingly 'erratic and uncertain' supply could reduce water availability in cities by as much as two thirds by 2050

Deirdre Fulton

Global water shortages, exacerbated by human-caused climate change, are likely to spur conflict and migration across the Middle East, central Asia, and Africa—all while negatively impacting regional economies, according to a new World Bank report published Tuesday.

Rising demand combined with increasingly "erratic and uncertain" supply could reduce water availability in cities by as much as two thirds by 2050, compared to 2015 levels, the report warns. Meanwhile, "food price spikes caused by droughts can inflame latent conflicts and drive migration," a World Bank press statement reads.

The report further cautions: "Unless action is taken soon, water will become scarce in regions where it is currently abundant—such as Central Africa and East Asia—and scarcity will greatly worsen in regions where water is already in short supply—such as the Middle East and the Sahel in Africa. These regions could see their growth rates decline by as much as 6% of GDP by 2050 due to water-related impacts on agriculture, health, and incomes."

However, the World Bank adds, "the negative impacts of climate change on water could be neutralized with better policy decisions, with some regions standing to improve their growth rates by up to 6% with better water resource management."

Scientists have warned that global warming is setting the stage for more frequent, and more devastating, droughts. Indeed, extreme drought is currently causing hardship in several of the regions named in the World Bank report.

Just this week, Zimbabwe put its wild animals up for sale, "saying it needed buyers to step in and save the beasts from a devastating drought," Reuters reported. On Tuesday, Burkina Faso's government began rationing water in its drought-hit capital, which is home to some two million people. Much of India is currently suffering from a scorching heat wave and severe drought conditions that have decimated crops, killed livestock and humans, and left at least 330 million Indians without enough water for their daily needs.

The World Bank's warning comes on the heels of a study published this week in the journal Climatic Change, which suggests that the Middle East and North Africa could become "uninhabitable" by the end of this century due to climate change and increasing hot weather extremes.

Echoing the World Bank, the Max Planck Institute researchers behind that study wrote: "We anticipate that climate change and increasing hot weather extremes in the [Middle East and North Africal], a region subject to economic recession, political turbulence and upheaval, may exacerbate humanitarian hardship and contribute to migration."

Watch a short video on the growing water crisis below:


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