The World’s Chief Global Risk? Water Supply


When the World Economic Forum (WEF), an annual gathering of Earth’s money movers, met Jan. 21-24 in Davos, Switzerland, they were confronted with WEF’s Global Risks 2015 Report. Risks of immediate impact were led, of course, by international conflicts. But the major risk considered to provide the most long-term global impact? Dwindling water supply.

California Drought-Rain At Last
Drought in California.

Within the 69-page report came this summary:

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Global water requirements are projected to be pushed beyond sustainable water supplies by 40% by 2030. Agriculture already accounts for on average 70% of total water consumption and, according to the World Bank, food production will need to increase by 50% by 2030 as the population grows and dietary habits change. The International Energy Agency further projects water consumption to meet the needs of energy generation and production to increase by 85% by 2035.

Peculiar Progressive, disgusted in 2012 by presidential candidates avoiding vital issues to the U.S. and world, published a column citing the five vital realities. The first of those is water. That column is here.

Meanwhile, of immediate concern are water issues ranging from drought in Brazil, the U.S. and water scarcity in China and Africa.

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Drought Lingers in Brazil

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In Brazil, grueling drought is bringing suffering to millions, with dwindling water supplies also endangering provision of electricity. reported last week:

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Brazil is experiencing a debilitating drought as the nation endures the driest period since South America’s most populous country began keeping records in the 1930s. As a result of the arid conditions, reservoir levels and lake water flow to hydroelectric facilities that supply power to Brazil’s most densely populated city of Sao Paulo are nearing zero capacity.


According to the federal government, hydroelectric power facilities in the country’s southeastern region that supply power to close to 20 million people in the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo (MRSP) are being deactivated. A list of the deactivated facilities is not immediately available, but Brazil normally receives about 70% of its electricity from hydroelectric plants, according to energy officials.

In another report, revealed last week:

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Brazil’s São Paulo water utility Sabesp could soon introduce a water rationing plan that involves shutting off supply five days a week.


As the state’s Cantareira water supply system – Brazil’s biggest – is on the brink of drying up, “the five day per week service shut-off could happen if rainfall does not increase in the reservoir area soon,” Sabesp’s metropolitan director Paulo Massato Yoshimoto said on national TV.


There has been a lack of rain in the region for more than a year, according to Yoshimoto, who affirmed that the 2014-15 rainy season looks to be even worse than the already critical 2013-14 season.

China, Africa Struggle

A University of Maryland professor and his international team’s new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides a first-time full inventory of water transfers among Chinese provinces. It shows that China’s recent years of soaring economic growth are causing the country’s water supply to dwindle. The paper notes:

The geographical mismatch between freshwater demand and available freshwater resources is one of the largest threats to sustainable water supply in China and throughout the world.

In Nigeria, water scarcity is a bigger killer than terrorist group Boko Haram, according to Bloomberg:

While the [recent] terror campaign claimed more than 4,000 lives, the shortage of potable water and poor sanitation led to about 73,000 deaths, according to WaterAid, a London-based nonprofit.


The water deficit isn’t limited to isolated areas in the country’s vast north. In Lagos, about 15 million of the coastal metropolis’ 21 million have limited access to piped water.


Africa’s accelerating urbanization is colliding with governments’ failure to provide the most basic services. Next year alone, Lagos will add more than the population of Boston, worsening its infrastructure shortfall.

In South Africa, according to the Mail & Guardian, the country’s “thirst has just begun”:

For many South Africans, the water crisis is already here. For others, research and projections show, it is only a matter of time – and perhaps not a great deal of time.


Thanks to load-shedding, and a shortage of water when electricity is restricted, the thirsty future could arrive in major urban centres as soon as this summer.

In the U.S., Drought Plagues the West

Drought also continues to gnaw at major U.S. states like California, Colorado and Texas, affecting both citizens and food production.

In California, officials look to dam the situation, according to

State water officials say they may dam parts of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in an emergency measure to protect freshwater used by millions of Californians.


The Department of Water Resources said Monday that if the drought persists they may build temporary rocky barriers blocking three channels on the Delta. They say the dams would decrease the amount of water released from upstream reservoirs to keep saltwater from creeping inland from the San Francisco Bay, contaminating the Delta.


The Delta provides 25 million people with drinking water and irrigates millions of acres of farmland.

Meanwhile, Colorado has grown miserly about sharing fresh water with other states, says

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To understand what’s at stake here, a brief overview of the critical nature of the Colorado River and those who depend on it is in order:


The river provides water to 40 million people in the states of Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California and Colorado. These seven states also make up one of the driest regions in the nation, dependent on a water flow that is miniscule in comparison to rivers in other parts of the United States.


Making matters worse, recent droughts throughout the region have reduced the Colorado’s already limited flow and left massive reservoirs like Lake Mead, which sits in Nevada and just over the Arizona border, at record lows.

In Texas, even recent rains haven’t provided sufficient relief for the state’s long drought, reports

Despite steady rainfalls over the past six months, University researchers have found that Texas is still far from replenishing its groundwater supply, which is depleted because of a drought that began in 2011. 

Data gathered from satellites showed that, out of the 76 million acre-feet of water lost during the peak of the drought in 2011, only about 10 percent has been recovered as of November of last year. An acre-foot of water, which equates to about 326,700 gallons of water, covers an acre of land at a depth of one foot.

Bottom line: Wherever in the world you reside, you’d be wise to get organized, educated, and active in caring for your local and state water supplies, as best you can.