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More of Us to Go Thirsty As Earth Dries Up

The drought in Texas has lingered.

The drought in Texas has lingered.

Water supplies around the planet are running dry at an alarming rate.

Scientists say the world is experiencing a shortage of fresh water. It will only worsen as the population grows and the climate changes. People living in the western part of the U.S. are experiencing this now. For several years, there hasn’t been much water there.

But the American West is not the only place thirsty for water.

Drought in East Africa

Drought in East Africa

Jerry Schubel is president and CEO of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.

"More than half of the world's population lives in water-stressed areas and, according to the United Nations, that number will increase to two-thirds by 2025, fewer than 10 years from now."

Jerry Schubel says the amount of water on earth has not changed for billions of years, but the ratio of fresh to salt water has. He also says there are also other factors that are creating a fresh water shortage.

"In much of the world, shortage of fresh water is a looming crisis that will only be exacerbated by climate change and a growing population."

Schubel says most of the world's population live in countries that share bodies of water. Many of those countries don't have agreements on how to share that water.

"And many of these regions are in areas of political unrest: North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Southwest, Central and South Asia. The aggregate population in these areas is predicted to triple by the end of this century. So, water shortages could well become flashpoints for regional and international conflicts."

Water is Life

Scientists say conservation is the first step to solving the water crisis. Kevin Wattier, manager at the Long Beach water department says desalinating – removing salt from sea water -- is also an option. But that comes at a price.

A migrant town in Ethiopia

A migrant town in Ethiopia

"It would cost at least twice or three times as much to desalinate sea water as it would cost to buy imported water. You will increase your global carbon footprint when you go to sea water desal."

Schubel says the problem of global water shortage can be solved only if countries work together.

"We could supply everyone on this planet with safe drinking water and enough water to grow their food. But it will take money, technology, political will and cooperation. And learning how to share requires collaborative decision making at intergovernmental levels."

Extreme Heat in Persian Gulf

Water shortages plague many parts of the world. Heat waves could become the norm in the Persian Gulf by the end of the century.

Just this past summer, very hot high temperatures in Iran sent the heat index - a combination of temperature and humidity - up to 73 degrees Celsius.

The reason? Climate change.

According to a new research, the combination of intense sun and shallow waters makes the Persian Gulf area "a specific regional hotspot where climate change is a threat to human health.

Heat could be so intense that in many regional cities, the temperature "could exceed a tipping point for human survival, even in shaded and well-ventilated spaces.”

A team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University published their writing in the journal Nature of Climate Change.

The study also found at high levels of heat and humidity, even a healthy young adult is at risk.

When temperatures soar, humans cool off by sweating. The evaporating sweat carries heat away. But when it's very humid, evaporation is slowed and it's harder for the body to cool down.

When heat and humidity are extremely high, the human body can lose the ability to regulate its temperature. That is called hyperthermia. The body’s temperature rises, and if this condition goes on long enough, death occurs.

Dubai's popular Jumeirah beach

Dubai's popular Jumeirah beach

The tipping point means a combination of 35 degrees Celsius with enough humidity to make it difficult for humans to survive more than six hours.

"It is an upper limit to adaptability to climate change due to heat stress," MIT researcher Elfatih Eltahir told reporters at a news conference called to discuss the findings.

The study that showed the consequences of a “business-as-usual” situation where nothing is done about greenhouse gasses, also points out that curbing emissions could prevent deadly temperature extremes.

The researchers predict that in cities like Doha, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and Bandar Abbas, Iran, could exceed the 35 Celsius threshold several times over a 30-year period.

Extreme conditions could "characterize the usual summer day in the future," said Eltahir.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Elizabeth Lee and Matthew Hilburn reported on this story. Marsha James adapted her report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

Is there drought in your part of the world? Or flooding? Or both? Tell us about it in the Comments or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

ratio – n. the relationship that exists between the size, number, or amount of two things

exacerbate – v. to make a situation or problem worse

aggregate – n. a total amount

flashpoint – n. a point, place or situation in which sudden anger or violence could happen

desalinate – v. to remove salt from something, such as water

hot spot – n. a very popular or active place

ventilate – v. to allow fresh air to enter and move through

hyperthermia – n. the condition of having a body temperature greatly above normal

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