Climate Change Impact on Water Already Affects Nations Worldwide
Washington - Experts often characterize climate change in terms of a projected rise in global average temperature over the 21st century. People worldwide are feeling that heat now through their water supplies, as a warming planet begins to alter the land-sea-atmosphere cycle of water that makes life on Earth possible.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington — Experts often characterize climate change in terms of a projected rise in global average temperature over the 21st century. People worldwide are feeling that heat now through their water supplies, as a warming planet begins to alter the land-sea-atmosphere cycle of water that makes life on Earth possible.
The water cycle has a critical role in the chemical, physical and biological processes that sustain ecosystems and influence Earth’s climate. Clouds, water vapor and precipitation affect heating and cooling of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, and these affect global circulation and precipitation patterns.
Over the past 50 years, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, global average temperature and sea level have risen and precipitation patterns have increased in some parts of the world and decreased in others.
Changes in the water cycle can be linked to warming that has been observed over several decades, including rising water vapor in the atmosphere ( enhancing the greenhouse effect ); reduced snow cover and widespread ice melting; and changes in soil moisture and runoff. And global temperatures are expected to keep rising.
“Think about this: the year 2025. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s population — which continues to grow too fast — will be living in conditions that are termed water stressed,” Maria Otero, the State Department’s under secretary for democracy and global affairs, said March 8. “The lack of a sustainable and timely supply of water will undermine food security, and that will become a source of tension, potentially leading to conflict. Climate change will only add to this.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Otero will speak on worldwide diplomatic and development efforts on water policy at a World Water Day event in Washington on March 22.
WORLD WATER DAY
The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are partnering with the United Nations and other international organizations on World Water Day, March 22, to raise the profile of water quality around the world.
“Clean Water for a Healthy World” is the theme of this year’s World Water Day, an annual event managed by UN-Water, a 27-member group of U.N. agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and the World Health Organization, whose missions are related to water.
“There will be increasing competition in many parts of the world for scarce water resources — even North America is not immune to it,” said UN-Water Chairman Zafar Adeel, director of the Canada-based U.N. University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health. “We’re also going to see greater impacts on the quality of water. It’s not just how much water is there, but the quality of water for various uses — agriculture, drinking, industrial use — that’s going to become much tougher.”
For this reason, the United States emphasizes integrating water policy into the Obama administration’s food security, global health and climate change initiatives. All these problems are linked, and they are all linked to water.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, higher water temperatures and changes in extreme weather, including floods and droughts, are projected to affect water quality and worsen many forms of water pollution from sediments, nutrients, pathogens, pesticides and salt, with possible negative effects on ecosystems, human health and water systems.
Even so, Adeel said, “water can be a very good integrator. You can actually bring together factions or competitors and sit down and talk about water in a professional sense. It’s a very good medium around which collaboration can take place.”
COUNTRY BRIEFS ON WATER
Such discussions are also important when UN-Water agencies work with developing-country leadership in nations that do not necessarily prioritize access to drinking water and sanitation as part of their national development plans.
In February, water experts from the UN-Water agencies met in Canada to plan a coordinated response to what the United Nations calls “a looming water crisis.”
One outcome of the meeting, Adeel said, was the formation of a task force that will develop briefs on all aspects of water in an individual country. The United States is helping support the project. Work has begun on the briefs and they could be completed within two years.
“If we do it right,” said Aaron Salzberg, special coordinator for water resources at the U.S. State Department, “each brief will be a one-page piece of paper that we can use in a variety of ways.” It will provide tailored information to ministers of environment, health, food, energy and other ministries that deal with water issues, he said.
“A minister would walk into the room, and on his or her desk is a one-page summary that says here’s your country today and here’s your water situation,” Salzberg said. “Here’s what it’s going to be 30 years from now. And here’s what it’s costing you now and what it will cost then in terms of human lives, economic growth and development and food productivity — in terms of things that really matter to decisionmakers. If we can do that, I think it will allow us to engage decisionmakers in a much more meaningful way.”
In April, UN-Water will publish its 2010 Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water report, which Salzberg calls “a step in the direction” of country water briefs.
“We need to build that data,” Salzberg said. “The water community unfortunately hasn’t done a very good job yet on a country-by-country basis assembling the data that allows decision makers to understand the impacts of water and sanitation on their countries.”
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