What might be the consequences of global water shortages in 2025? To answer this question, MSNBC’s documentary Future Earth: 2025 provides us with five short scenarios. A documentary worth watching, even though it was originally aired in 2009 and some exact data might be outdated. I think it’s greatest worth is in the visualisation of the hypothetical scenarios and the sense of urgency it imposes on its viewers.
For those not knowing what’s going on: Even though 2/3 of our planet consists of water, only 1/50th is drinking water. And a substantial part of that drinking water is now inaccessible, locked in glaciers and the Polar Regions. As a result of a growing world wide population, droughts as a result of global warming and changing weather-patterns, the demand for water will rise with 50% in 2030.
The possible impact: 4 scenarios
Scenario 1: Dust Bowls
Since 2003, the American South-West region region has been dealing with the impact of drought. Due to less snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, the water in the Colarado river (Hoover Dam) is drying up. Which means less water for big cities like Las Vegas but also no source of electricity for Los Angeles. A possible natural disaster is the growing risk of dust bowls (storms of dust swiping over the land). Dust bowls cause great damage to agricultural areas, which means a possible loss of valuable farmland and milions of people being displaced. Also dust bowls can cause death because of a high risk of traffic accidents and can destroy entire cities. In Africa and in the Middle East dust bowls already occur and the US seems to be creating the conditions for dust bowls. In 2025, dust bowls might create complete deserts in Souteast Asia, Africa, Western Australia, the American Southwest, Eastern South America and Southern Europe.
Scenario 2: Locust-plague
The locust can be a very harmful creature. In 1 day a locust can eat its own body weight in food, and when moving in a swarm they leave nothing but distruction in their wake. Hot, dry environments create the perfect living conditions for locusts. Hungry locusts group together and fly further than they would when living solitary. The UN Locust Forecast Centre in Rome expects that as a result of global warming and drought, African locusts plagues will move futher on north and strike into Euorpe (which will be a hotter and dryer place than it is now), eating every piece of vegetation in their way.
Scenario 3: Megafires
Global warming and drought will highten the risk of wildfires. In 2009 Australia was struck by over 400 wildfires in the State of Victoria. In the US state of California, rainfall has dropped by 48% in 2004-2009. As a result, fireseasons are longer and more severe. Wildfires not only cause great damage to forrest-area’s, if they spread to settled areas, they can destroy complete villages and cities and cause many deaths. The scenario that is shown here is that of a fire tornado, a deadly firestorm, that sweeps over Los Angeles in the year 2025. Australia, Southern Africa an South East Asia are also regions at risk of an increase of wildfires.
Scenario 4: Water-wars
Water is a very precious resource and as it becomes scarce, countries might go to war over it. Rivers do not follow man’s geographical-political borders. Upstream countries always have more power than downstream countries. This goes for example for the rivers the Indus, the Eufrat-Tigris and the Nile. Even nowadays it takes great diplomatic effort to draw up treaties on how to share water supplies. The scenario zooms in on the Indus river and predicts upstream country India building dams and leaving less water for downstream country Pakistan. This would cause loss of livelihoods and millions of people having to migrate. It is very likely Pakistan would resist the building of such a dam and conflicts will erupt.
Scenario 5: Floods
The previous four scenarios are all consequences of a lack of water. The fifth scenario focuses on the world regions where, as a result of global warming and changing weather patterns, people have to deal with too much water and the risk of flooding. The cities Shanghai, Calcutta, Amsterdam, New Orleans and New York are all threatenend by the rising sea levels. These cities have a flat and low topography and rivers have ready acces to the urban infrastructure. In the scenario the examples are given of the damage done by Hurrican Katrina to New Orleans and the rainfall in 2006 that lead downtown Washington DC to shut down for three days. People would either need to build bigger defences or abandon whole areas to the sea.
Even though the scenarios visualised in the documentary are quite dark and disastrous, the documentary ends on a positive note and gives some examples of how companies and scientists are trying to deal with possible water shortages and drought. For example seeding clouds to create more rainfall or turning salt (ocean) water into drinking water.
Conclusion: though the documentary is from 2009 and some of the data might be outdated by now, the clear explanations and visualisations of the scenarios makes it worthwhile watching and very useful for (class-room) presentations.