The Scary Global Water Crisis That Is Coming Soon

Residents pull water from a public well
Adam Berry / Getty Images

Water shortages may seem like a horror trope from apocalyptic films, but The New York Times is reporting that the frightening scenario is just on the horizon. Dozens of cities have been deemed to have have dangerously high water stress levels, leaving nearly a quarter of Earth’s population to potentially face a serious water crisis.

Already, many communities are struggling with ways to replenish their water sources. Dhaka, in Bangladesh, has resorted to drawing from aquifers that are hundreds of feet below ground to provide water for residential drinking as well as its garment industry.

In Mexico City, groundwater is being drawn so fast that the city is sinking. InPakistan and India and countries that depend heavily on water-hungry crops, like cotton and rice, residents have resorted to draining aquifers to supply water to their farms.

Other places are not so lucky to have water still remaining. For example, Chennai, in India, has almost no water left, having relied on groundwater for too long.

In fact, several large cities, including Chennai, have recently suffered severe water shortages, according to the World Resources Institute. They geographically span the globe, from São Paulo, Brazil, to Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town arguably had the largest scare of all, nearly reaching Day Zero — a term for when all dams run dry — after a three year drought.

The United States is not immune from the crisis; two cities that have been deemed as having high levels of water stress include San Diego and Los Angeles. Los Angeles recently suffered a massive year-long drought, but scientists fear that the city of angels has learned little from its past troubles. Water supply is not keeping up with a demand, which is only increasing as the population of the city grows.

California is not the only state dealing with the problem; in Texas, Dallas has also been listed as an urban center with a high water stress rating. Even cities not known for arid climates — such as Seattle, Boston, and Philadelphia — have a medium-to-high stress level warning.

Many scientists lay part of the blame on global warming, which they believe has led to unpredictable weather patterns. In addition to droughts, hotter temperatures has led to greater evaporation at dams and other water sources.

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Others also point to the rising global population and urbanization. The estimated population in the 33 cities that have high water stress currently stands at a combined 255 million. Within 10 years, the number of cities with high water stress will jump to 45 and boast a combined population of 470 million people.

person holding buckets of water
  Victor Moriyama / Getty Images

In response, scientists are urging city planners to take the looming crisis seriously, and have offered solutions such as updating water distribution systems, promoting less water-intensive crops, and harvesting rain water.

“Water is a local problem and it needs local solutions,” said Priyanka Jamwal, a fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment in Bangalore.