Emerging Water Shortages by Lester Brown

posted Tuesday, November 21, 2006        

Africa’s Lake Chad, once a landmark for astronauts circling the earth, is now difficult for them to locate. Surrounded by Chad, Niger, and Nigeria—three countries with some of the world’s fastest-growing populations—the lake has shrunk by 95 percent since the 1960s. The soaring demand for irrigation water in that area is draining dry the rivers and streams the lake depends on for its existence. As a result, Lake Chad may soon disappear entirely, its whereabouts a mystery to future generations.

Every day, it seems, we read about lakes disappearing, wells going dry, or rivers failing to reach the sea. But these stories typically describe local situations. It is not until we begin to compile the numerous national studies—such as an 824-page analysis of the water situation in China, a World Bank study of the water situation in Yemen, or a detailed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assessment of the irrigation prospect in the western United States—that the extent of emerging water shortages worldwide can be grasped. Only then can we see the extent of water overuse and the decline it can bring.

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