Climate change and rising temperatures around the world are increasing the severity of drought in urban areas which, in turn, is having an impact on water availability, according to a new report published this month (August).
Conducted by Christian Aid, the study found that global water usage and consumption grew at more than twice the rate of population increase throughout the 20th century despite the fact that just three per cent of global water supplies are actually suitable for drinking.
Of this freshwater, 70 per cent of it is locked in ice caps and glaciers, while less than 0.01 per cent of all freshwater in the world can be found in lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
The report – Scorched Earth: The Impact of Drought on 10 World Cities – features ten cities around the world that are perhaps the most at risk… Sydney, Harare, Sao Paulo, Phoenix, Beijing, Kabul, New Delhi, Cape Town, Cairo and London.
Back in 2018, Cape Town very nearly became the first major city in the world to reach Day Zero and run out of water… a crisis that was narrowly averted by the introduction of emergency measures to slash the city’s water consumption by 50 per cent.
And just last month, officials in Santiago were forced to implement water rationing measures, while in New Delhi, people have been queuing for water in such high temperatures that heatstroke is a risk even without any physical activity or exertion.
It is perhaps understandable for the UK to feel somewhat blase about the risk of drought, given its famously damp weather, but as the last few weeks and record temperatures have clearly demonstrated, this country will certainly not be immune to the impacts of climate change… and neither will its cities.
Interestingly, London actually receives less rainfall than you might think, with just 260mm a year… approximately half of that which falls in New York City.
The majority of London’s rain falls during autumn and winter, soaking into rocks lying beneath the city streets. This water is then extracted by water suppliers for use during the drier month, but as drought frequency and intensity are expected to increase in line with climate change, water availability could certainly decrease in turn.
London also has an ageing water pipe network and a growing population, so it is likely that increased drought will put growing pressure on the system. There may be insufficient water available to supply the city’s residents if a 4 degree C increase in global warming levels is seen, even if leaky pipes are fixed and household water consumption is reduced.
CEO of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan recently issued a stark warning that London and the south-east of England could run out of water within 25 years.
Thames Water estimates that the cost of a severe drought to London’s economy would be £330 million per day, with the result being severe economic, social and environmental consequences.
And the Environment Agency has also suggested that some rivers in England will see between 50 and 80 per cent less water during the summer by 2050.
Off the back of this report, Christian Aid has issued a call for an international fund to pay for climate-related loss and damage. It also notes that, without urgent action now to address climate change itself, the danger of city droughts will only get worse in the future.
The poorest in society are projected to feel the effects of water stress and scarcity, without action taken to cut emissions and manage freshwater resources more effectively.
According to the UN, city residents on lower incomes can pay up to 50 times more for a litre of water than wealthier people, often because they have to buy from private vendors. Furthermore, cities in poorer nations are more vulnerable than their richer counterparts, because they have fewer resources available to adapt to shortages.
Co-author of the report Nushrat Rahman Chowdhury said: “Drought is not new but its intensity and frequency have increased over the last 30 years due to global warming.
“It is a real danger. It threatens lives and livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the world. These are communities which have done the least to cause the climate crisis. This is the reality known as loss and damage. To address this injustice, we not only need emissions cut but also to provide financial support for those losses which cannot be adapted to.”
She went on to say that the organisation will be calling for a loss and damage finance facility to be set up as a major priority at the UN climate talks in Egypt later this year.
COP27 is to be hosted in the green city of Sharm El-Sheikh between November 7th and 18th, marking the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
It is hoped that the legacy of this climate change conference will be the point where the whole world comes together to demonstrate that it does, indeed, have the political will to drive real, lasting and significant change and tackle the climate challenge through concerted, collaborative and impactful action.
The concept of loss and damage has been pushed up the agenda at international climate talks, as it continues to affect the most vulnerable countries and communities, those that have contributed least to the climate emergency.
Finance is now being demanded by the countries for the losses and damages sustained as a result of emissions from rich countries.
Much of the focus is on the loss of farmland to desertification and other such rural impacts, but it was recently found that loss and damage incidents caused by water shortages have now been seen in seven major cities in Asia.