THE BLOG

New Report: We're Heading for "Water Bankruptcy"

03/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In case you haven't been following recent headlines around water, they go something like this:

"Argentine farmers face ruin as drought kills cattle, crops" (CNN)

"Nevada a natural disaster area due to drought" (AP)

"Kingdom braces for drought-like conditions" (Jordan Times)

"Calif. facing worst drought in modern history" (USA Today)

"Kenya to declare national emergency over drought" (Reuters)

And to sum that all up, a new report recently released said that: "The world is heading toward 'water bankruptcy' as demand for the precious commodity outstrips even high population growth," AFP reported.

In less than 20 years water scarcity could lose the equivalent of the entire grain crops of India and the United States, said the World Economic Forum report, which added that food demand is expected to sky-rocket in coming decades.

"The world simply cannot manage water in the future in the same way as in the past or the economic web will collapse," said the report.

Across the world, water resources are strapped and climate change is sure to make things worse in many areas. One of the hardest hit will be Asia where melting glaciers in the Himalayas could be gone by 2100, leaving 2 billion people without drinking water. As if that weren't enough, "about 70 major rivers around the world are close to being totally drained in order to supply water for irrigation and reservoirs," according to the report.

Closer to home, California has made recent news with dire water predictions for the coming months, as the state seems to be hitting year three of drought.

"We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history," said California Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow.

So what do we do? First, we need to combat climate change and we need to begin thinking of our water and energy problems in tandem. We can no longer find fixes for one that make the other one worse. It takes lots energy to move, use and treat water. And it takes lots of water to cool power plants. With that thinking, things like desalination and ethanol make less and less sense (if they ever did at all, anyway). Desal uses too much energy and biofuels, too much water. If you want to save water, you can definitely turn off your tap while you brush your teeth, but better yet, start saving electricity and driving your car less and eating lower on the food chain and more locally.

Of course, this isn't just an issue that will be solved by individuals. We need better policy for water use in agriculture and industry and we need to move away from energy sources that are extremely water intensive -- like coal and nuclear plants, toward sources like wind and solar. It makes sense from both a water and climate change perspective. And what we need right now is some big picture thinking.