askST: How is climate change fuelling water scarcity worldwide?

Q: How does climate change exacerbate water scarcity?

A: Climate change is speeding up the water cycle as rising temperatures increase the rate of evaporation. The warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, leading to increased precipitation, such as rain and snow.

However, these effects are not evenly distributed around the world, so some countries experience heavier than normal precipitation, while other countries become more prone to droughts as a result of drier soils.

These climate-related extremes, such as droughts and flooding, are becoming more serious, with a greater proportion of annual precipitation being less spread out during the year, and even happening in one single extreme event.

Frequent droughts can lead to higher frequencies of water stress or water scarcity, while flooding can damage infrastructure and affect the availability of clean water as debris and sedimentation contaminate freshwater systems.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said in a report in October that the water cycles are “spinning out of balance”, necessitating more robust monitoring systems, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Long-term water supply may also be threatened, as glaciers – which are huge reserves of freshwater for millions of people – are shrinking more rapidly than usual due to rising temperatures.

This also causes flooding and sea-level rise in the longer term. 

Q: Why is water a focus at COP28 in 2023?

A: According to the WMO State of Global Water Resources Report 2022 published in October, too little is known about the true state of the world’s freshwater resources. 

“We cannot manage what we do not measure. There must be improved monitoring, data-sharing, cross-border collaboration and assessments of water resources – and an accompanying increase in investments to facilitate this,” said WMO. 

As a result, water issues will be given increased prominence at the upcoming COP28 conference. 

Water is also closely tied to food security, given the heavy reliance of fisheries, crops and livestocks on water, as well as general health.

Lack of access to clean water, such as during heavy flooding, can fuel waterborne diseases like typhoid, malaria and cholera.

Tajikistan and the Netherlands have been appointed by the United Arab Emirates COP presidency to steer negotiations on water at the talks.

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