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Why This Matters: Drought and water scarcity are becoming permanent fixtures across the globe and have rippling effects that will impact all life on Earth.
In the Western United States, extreme drought has prompted the first-ever water shortage declaration along the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to 40 million people.
An October 2020 study found that the Amazon rainforest is running out of rain and could soon become a savannah. Water scarcity creates a vicious cycle. As water sources dwindle due to heat and drought, demand for water and energy resources will only increase. Agriculture will be the first sector to suffer from water cuts, and food prices will likely rise, while hydroelectric dam closures will increase electricity costs. Meanwhile, dry conditions will continue to worsen yearly wildfires, decimating natural landscapes and water systems.
Escaping this cycle is only possible with sweeping efforts to protect 30% of all land and water by 2030. Still, even as the COP26 climate conference approaches, many countries have fallen behind on their Paris agreement commitments despite a tightening climate deadline.
A Drained Swamp
A coalition of experts from Brazilian universities, WWF-Brazil, the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, Google, and The Nature Conservancy examined 150,000 satellite images measuring all surface waters across Brazil. They found that, before accounting for this year’s record-breaking drought, the nation’s wetlands, lakes, rivers, and other surface water sources had declined by 15% from 1991 to 2020. “The prospects are not good; we’re losing natural capital, we’re losing water that feeds industries, energy generation, and agribusiness,” said Cassio Bernardino, a project manager for WWF-Brazil. Brazil’s “society as a whole is losing this very precious resource, and losing it at a frighteningly fast rate.”
Ecologists say that although water systems shift over time, human activity has magnified these changes, causing the devastating loss of the world’s wetlands. “We’re altering the magnitude of those natural processes,” said Mažeika Patricio Sulliván, an ecology professor at Ohio State University. “This is not just happening in Brazil; it’s happening all over the world.” Since 1900, 90% of South America’s wetlands have vanished, including parts of the world’s largest tropical wetland, the Pantanal. Forty percent of North America’s wetlands have also disappeared. Ecologists say that these regions can heal and regenerate if given the space and time to do so, but the threat of wildfires looms as long as temperatures continue to rise. “The integration of water loss and wildfires: that’s a big issue that we need to start thinking more about,” said Sulliván.
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer For decades, uranium mining has contaminated the Navajo Nation, causing higher cancer rates and water pollution. Even though the health risks and environmental harms of uranium mining are well-established, new operations continue to move forward. One local group, the Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) hasn’t found a […]
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he would extend the drought emergency statewide and issued an executive order to have residents conserve water. As part of this effort, eight new counties were added to the state of emergency, and authorized the State Water Resources Control Board was authorized to […]
By Elizabeth Love, ODP Contributing Writer Authorities in the Canadian Arctic territory Nunavut, announced a state of emergency this week due to a possible contamination event affecting the City of Iqaluit’s water supply. Tests were performed after residents reported the smell of gasoline coming from their tap water, but they came back clean. However, […]
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