Impacts of climate change: Water scarcity becoming a reality

Paidamoyo Mutsvairo

Climate change is a reality that the world has to deal with and it’s not surprising that world leaders convened in Glasgow, Scotland for the United Nation Climate Change Conference (COP26) from 31 October 2021 to 12 November 2021.

It is imperative to note that the first effects of climate change felt by humans are extreme weather pattern can prompt either floods or water scarcity affecting the whole food chain. In Zimbabwe, the frequency of droughts had been increasing since 2000, and this has been negatively affecting food security.

 In February 2021, in a Security Council debate convened by the United Kingdom (UK), Sir David Attenborough warned that “If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security: food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature and ocean food chains.” For instance, South Africa experienced a three (3) year consecutive droughts, from 2015-2018, which saw Cape Town, becoming the first major city in the world to run out of drinkable water as it dealt with serious water scarcity.

Advanced agriculture practices such as drilling of boreholes for “industrial farms” especially in dry or arid regions intensifies water scarcity. Long back most countries were reliant on rain-fed agriculture production, however, due to erratic rainfall patterns, most countries have since shifted towards irrigation-based agriculture, which is contributing to water scarcity. Thus, the rate of use is surpassing the rate of replenishment of ground water sources, known as aquifers. However, research has shown that African groundwater supplies are not yet negatively affected. Hotter temperatures will see more evaporation from land surface. In addition, land clearance to pave way for cattle ranching together with cutting down of trees for timber affects precipitation. For instance, Amazon Jungle in Brazil is being cleared for either wood or cattle ranching every minute, hence affecting the global rainfall systems. It should be known that there is a direct link between deforestation and a reduced precipitation. Thus, deforestation and reduced precipitation causes frequent drought, which later threatens food security.

Water shortages would result from increased demand by a growing population, as well as shrinking rainfall totals and greater evaporation caused by global warming. It is anticipated that the global population will increase by 2 billion, from 7 billion to 9 billion, by 2050. The development could increase pressure on resources, meaning there would be continuous deforestation, pressure on land and continuous use of fossil-based fuels to augment to the rising demand of power. Moreover, an increase in population means intensified irrigation practices in a bid to strengthen food systems and avert hunger.

Changes in water availability, particularly water scarcity, increase competition between water users. Its importance as a resource means that water-related insecurity can easily exacerbate tensions and friction within and between countries. For example, the on-going row between Egypt and Ethiopia over the construction of River Nile Dam in Ethiopia. Iran and Iraq are frequently at odds over water issues. Iraq depends on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for nearly all of its water. But Iran is building dams to re-divert some of that water, causing alarm and creating major water shortages for Iraq.

In that regard, to mitigate global effects of climate change, governments should be encouraged to cut down on green house gas (GHG) emissions by at least 50 percent, transit from fossil based fuel to renewable energy. Communities should impress a green way of life for sustainability. Also, countries should implement climate smart agriculture practices and governments should meet climate commitments. For example, the Group of 7 countries including the US, Japan, France, Canada, UK, Germany, and Italy must honour its pledge of US$100 billion towards climate commitment. Though this might be a drop in the ocean at least it’s a start to avert the disaster that is facing the whole world due to climate change.

Furthermore, scientists emphasised the need by farmers to cut their irrigation of industrial crops used primarily for animal feed and biofuels, such as hay, field corn, soybeans, sorghum, millet, rapeseed and switch grass. Cutting irrigation practices could help preserve water aquifers.

Instead of cutting down trees for firewood, governments could adopt the use of green charcoal. Green charcoal is made of agricultural waste such as dry banana peels, coffee husks, plant and tree leaves. Uganda has already resorted to green charcoal for use in both household and heating of boilers in factories. Green charcoal is proven to be more environmentally friendly.

 In a nutshell, governments and policy makers must be urged to formulate and implement measures that promote green investments in order to mitigate effects of climate change, including water scarcity. Nations cannot afford to be selfish or self-centred to avoid the pending disaster wrought on by climate change.