The recent flooding in the UK, particularly on the Somerset Levels and now the Thames, and a series of powerful storms that have lashed the coastline resulting in deaths, injuries and extensive damage, have slowly begun to focus all but the most hardened climate change sceptics on the effects climate change is having on the British weather – and with large areas of farmland under water and fishermen prevented from sailing from port, food security has become a major topic. With the transport network similarly disrupted in the South West – with the line washed away by the sea at Dawlish in Devon and landslides at Castle Carey and Crewkerne stopping all rail travel to and from the West Country, ministers are finally starting to realise that a lack of foresight has meant big big problems ahead. Farms and home sbuilt on flood plains will always be at risk – more so with extreme weather – but this is complicated by the fact that increasing industrialisation, new housing developments and intensive farming means that there is more runoff – and the land retains less water – all adding to problems. The farmers union, the NFU, has said that 85% of the most productive farmland lies on floodplains – and Defra says that 35,000 hectares of high quality agricultural land will be flooded one every three years by 2020 – rising to a possible 130,000 hectares by 2080.
Almost all serious scientists say that increased CO2 in the atmosphere will drive climate change. Global warming means that warmer air can hold more water – which then falls as increased rain, at Atlantic hurricanes have risen in power and intensity. But extreme weather doesn’t mean everywhere will get wetter. Quite the reverse – dry areas may well get drier.
The losses of water reserves are staggering. In seven years, beginning in 2003, parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lost 144 cubic kilometres of stored freshwater – or about the same amount of water in the Dead Sea, according to data compiled by the Grace mission and released last year. A small portion of the water loss was due to soil drying up because of a 2007 drought and to a poor snowpack. Another share was lost to evaporation from lakes and reservoirs. But the majority of the water lost, 90km3, or about 60%, was due to reductions in groundwater. Farmers, facing drought, resorted to pumping out groundwater – at times on a massive scale. The Iraqi government drilled about 1,000 wells to weather the 2007 drought, all drawing from the same stressed supply. In south Asia, the losses of groundwater over the last decade were even higher.
The East coast of the USA may have suffered flooding, hurricanes and extreme cold, but California’s water reserves are at a critical level. Man’s demands for water for people, agriculture, power and even new technologies like fracking place increasing demands on water – a serious worry: In Brazil San Paulo is on the verge of water rationing because of severe drought, and Tehran, the capital of Iran is also facing a water crisis – again with rationing planned. In China new demands from coal powered power stations are putting increased stress on already short supplies – and in India 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater.
The US security establishment is already warning of potential conflicts – including terror attacks – over water. In a 2012 report, the US director of national intelligence warned that overuse of water – as in India and other countries – was a source of conflict that could potentially compromise US national security. The report focused on water basins critical to the US security regime – the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra and Amu Darya. It concluded: “During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States.”
As fresh storms lash coast, UK starts to count long-term cost: High winds and rain continue to batter the coast, and the dispute over protecting rural areas is intensifying. Now the issues of climate change and food security have been thrust into the limelight http://www.theguardian.com/global/2014/feb/08/storms-lash-coast-uk-long-term-costs
We’re used to floods in Somerset – but this time the people feel angry and abandoned: It’s not just relentless rainfall – bureaucratic incompetence and years of neglect are also to blame, says the warden of a Somerset woodland sanctuary http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/09/somerset-floods-people-feel-abandoned
Why global water shortages pose threat of terror and war: From California to the Middle East, huge areas of the world are drying up and a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. US intelligence is warning of the dangers of shrinking resources and experts say the world is ‘standing on a precipice’ http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/09/global-water-shortages-threat-terror-war
PHOTO: By Bob Embleton