Water Shortages Affect Food, Transit, Security

Article excerpt

For 15 years, the United Nations has been observing "World Water Day," a time to consider the opportunities and challenges presented by a resource essential to the environment and to humankind.

It's becoming clear now that climate change may be altering the way people and governments think about water.

The UN reported this week that the world's glaciers are melting at "an alarming rate." Like reservoirs, glaciers store water and then release it at predictable rates, around which humans have formed communities and built economies. Agency France-Presse, the French news service, quotes Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, as saying:

"Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry, and power generation during key parts of the year."

As a result of shrinking glaciers, people will have to change their lifestyles, their farming, even move their homes, Mr. Steiner says. Britain's Sunday Observer further quotes Steiner as saying:

"While I'm always cautious about 'water wars,' certainly the potential for water to become a trigger for more tension and, where there's already conflict, to exacerbate conflict is another issue that's not hypothetical."

Global warming is raising ocean levels, meaning seawater will encroach on wetlands, rivers, and streams, according to recent reports by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Research Council (NRC), the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Climate change also could adversely affect transportation, the NRC reported last week. The Associated Press reports:

"The nation's transportation system was built for local conditions based on historical weather data, but those data may no longer be reliable in the face of new weather extremes.... The report notes, for example, that drier conditions are likely in the watersheds supplying the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. The resulting lower water levels would reduce vessel shipping capacity, seriously impairing freight movements in the region, such as occurred during the drought of 1988. …