Taking the Threat of Water Crises Seriously
The world watched as Cape Town, South Africa nearly hit Day Zero—the date when the city’s water supply would run dry. But have we learned from the near-disaster?
Although perhaps the most infamous, Cape Town is far from the only city that has experienced severe water-supply issues. Many cities in India do not have access to municipal water for more than a few hours a day. In the U.S., California has made national headlines for extended droughts. And southeastern Brazil has been suffering from its worst water shortage in 80 years. Cities must do more to prepare for these crises, Scientific American’s editors argue in a recent editorial.
Such water shortages do not have just one cause. Natural rainfall variation plays a significant role in year-to-year water availability, and recent city population growth trends strain these vulnerable systems. With projections that two thirds of humanity will live in cities by 2050, these issues only stand to become more severe. There is also the impact of unprecedented climate change—which is making extreme droughts more common.
There are concrete steps that can be taken to address water shortages worldwide. The “portfolio approach” has, so far, been among the most effective. The idea is to have a variety of water sources feeding city supplies so that if one is depleted, another can fill in. Cities should also address leakages in existing water infrastructures to ensure they are not wasting the precious resource. As Scientific American’s editorial board writes: “The global community has an opportunity right now to take action to prevent a series of Day Zero crises. If we don't act, many cities may soon face a time when there isn't a drop to drink.”
By: Maya Miller, Scientific American