Climate Change and the Urban Water Crisis

As population growth and climate change set in, cities in developing countries will face major shortages of freshwater. A new report looks at how those cities could be affected and what preventive steps they should start taking.
April 2, 2011, 7am PDT | Nate Berg
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This Q&A features Robert McDonald, the lead author of the report, who discusses how water shortages will affect cities in developing countries, and what they should start doing now to prevent problems.

"Q: The study says we can't just build our way out of this crisis with more pipes and aqueducts. Why not? What are the alternatives?

A. Well, cities commonly transport water longer distances to get around water shortages, and that other strategies include desalinization or unsustainably pumping groundwater. But the problem with all of these strategies is that they cost money. One study estimated that the world will have to spend $180 billion a year to meet its urban water needs.

Whatever the real figure is, there's a serious issue here the world needs to pay attention to. In this paper, we are showing the scope of that problem, and trying to remind planners that there are more ways to solve the problem than just building more dams.

Urban water managers and city planners should look at solutions that involve nature as well as more infrastructure. One solution: more efficient water use by agriculture and industry -- two of the biggest users of water worldwide. Payments to farmers to reduce areas of irrigated agriculture might be another partial solution, as well as removal of non-native water-hungry vegetation such as eucalyptus."

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Published on Friday, April 1, 2011 in Grist
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