New report: Climate change could see London and other cities running out of water

As a heat wave heads for the UK and Indian cities struggle with record high temperatures, a new report from Christian Aid highlights how the climate crisis is increasing the severity of drought in ten of the world’s major cities and demands an international fund to pay for climate damage. loss and damage.

Although it covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface, only 3% of the planet’s water is drinkable. Of this fresh water, 70% is locked up in glaciers and ice caps. Less than 0.01% of all fresh water in the world is available for human use in lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Despite this, Christian Aid’s analysis shows that global water use grew at more than twice the rate of population increase during the 20th century.

Just last month there was water rationing in the Chilean capital, Santiago, and people lined up for water in New Delhi, where temperatures have become so high that heatstroke is a risk even without any physical activity. In 2018, after a prolonged drought, Cape Town became days after becoming the first major city in the world to run out of water. ‘Day zero’, when the taps of four million residents would be turned off, was averted after emergency measures were implemented to cut the city’s water consumption by 50%.

Even in the UK, London has experienced heat waves in recent years and Environment Agency CEO James Bevan has warned that within 25 years London and the South East of England could run out of water. The cost of a severe drought to London’s economy is estimated by Thames Water at £330 million per day and would have serious economic, social and environmental consequences. The Environment Agency has said that by 2050 some rivers will see 50-80% less water during the summer months.

The report – Scorched Earth: The impact of drought on 10 cities around the world – was released alongside a new poll by Savanta, commissioned by Christian Aid. The data reveals that given several options, a plurality of UK citizens believe rich countries should pay to mitigate the impact of drought (36%). The data also reveals that nearly 6 in 10 people (57%) see the connection between their own actions and drought, but less than 3 in 10 (27%) see the connection and are prompted to act.

With the heatwaves that have hit the UK in recent years, almost half (49%) of UK adults are now concerned about the impact of drought on people in the UK. Despite this, more than 6 in 10 people (64%) agree that they have never seen information on how to protect themselves from it.

The ten cities featured in the report, released on the eve of Christian Aid Week, are Sydney, Harare, Sao Paulo, Phoenix, Beijing, Kabul, New Delhi, Cape Town, Cairo and London. The danger of urban droughts will only increase if no action is taken to combat climate change. Currently, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this figure is expected to rise to 68% by 2050.

Without action to reduce emissions and better manage freshwater resources, Christian Aid warns the toll will be felt acutely by the poor. According to the UN, low-income city dwellers can pay up to 50 times more for a liter of water than their wealthier neighbors because they often have to buy from private vendors. Cities in poor countries are also much more vulnerable than those in rich countries, as they have fewer resources to adapt to water shortages.

Report co-author Nushrat Rahman Chowdhury of Christian Aid said: “Drought is not new, but its intensity and frequency have increased over the past three decades due to global warming. This is a real danger; it threatens the lives and livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest. These are the communities that have contributed the least to the climate crisis. This is the reality known as loss and damage. To address this injustice, we not only need to reduce emissions, but also to provide financial support for the losses which is why, at this year’s United Nations climate talks in Egypt, we are asking that the creation of a mechanism for financing loss and damage is a major priority.

Dr Friederike Otto, a lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute, conducted a study of the 2018 drought in Cape Town. She added: “Shifting rainfall and higher temperatures – the result of greenhouse gas emissions – are making drought more common and more severe in some parts of the world. As we saw in Cape Town, when it almost hit day zero in 2018, this can add up to catastrophic water shortages even for some major cities.

“Our study of this event found that climate change makes drought about three times more likely to occur. Until net greenhouse gas emissions are halted, the risk of drought threatening water supplies cities will continue to grow.”

Graham Knott, CEng, MCIWEM, Retired Water and Environmental Engineer, said: “The lack of a reliable supply of potable water, compounded by the impacts of climate change, affects cities in different ways: we We are currently witnessing terrible suffering in New Delhi due to droughts and heat waves.

“Higher temperatures, combined with growing demand from cities, make our precious freshwater resources extremely vulnerable. Even London and the South East of England will face water shortages in the years to come if we fail to tackle climate change and adapt to its impacts by better managing our water resources and infrastructure.

“Compared to this, many cities have seen a significant increase in destructive and deadly flooding. Durban, South Africa, and even desert cities in Saudi Arabia have recently suffered from major flooding. The uncontrolled pollution of the clean water we have makes matters worse.

“Without action and adaptation, climate change threatens to affect many things we currently take for granted.”

Mohamed Adow, director of Nairobi-based climate and energy think tank Power Shift Africa, said: “This is an important report that highlights the growing threat of urban drought. With more and more people living in cities, this is already becoming a major problem. consequence of the climate crisis which will affect millions of people. Here in Africa we are bearing the brunt of this climate emergency, so we are acutely aware of the value and importance of water and what will happen if we run out of it. This year’s COP27 climate talks will take place in Egypt, a country already facing the prospect of water shortages. It is essential that during these talks, leaders are prepared with plans to reduce emissions and provide the necessary funding and support to help communities facing drought. »

The report also highlights the impact of drought on the conduct of conflicts, and in particular in Crimea, the part of Ukraine annexed by Russia in 2014. The region is vulnerable to climate change and since the annexation, the Ukraine protested by diverting the northern Crimean Canal which supplies 85% of Crimea’s water, sparking tensions in Russia and with leading politicians like Konstantin Zatulin calling for a more aggressive foreign policy towards Ukraine.

“Research by the Pacific Institute has shown that water-related conflicts, both within countries and between countries, are on the rise. In the 29 years between 1960 and 1989, there are had 1.27 a year. But in the 27 years between 1990 and 2007, there were 4.61 a year.”

Case Study: Janet Zirugo

In Zimbabwe, drought and erratic rainfall have made food production an annual challenge. Janet Zirugo, 70, has experienced the impact of climate change first hand. She said, “We have a rain challenge and a hunger challenge. There will be no good harvests in our fields. There will be no water to water our gardens. In order for our livestock to get clean drinking water, they will not have The biggest change is in rainfall patterns. A long time ago we knew that when the rains fall in October, we would know that the rainy season has started for sure. We then went to the fields to plow. Nowadays, we have to wait either we plow in November or in December.”

She said the drought was a major contributor to hardship and hunger for her children: “When I cooked the meal, I gave it to the children, then I took the dog’s part out and I ate it. The children were picking up the dog’s meal from the floor because they weren’t full. We ate things that couldn’t normally be eaten. These challenges had been brought on by the drought. It hadn’t rained, those things I can’t forget. Because if you see a child picking up dog food, the situation has reached unbearable proportions.”


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