The World Bank has warned that water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could impact growth, spur migration and spark conflict across the globe including in India where several regions are facing water deficit.
A World Bank report ‘High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy’ released yesterday said the combined effects of growing populations, rising incomes and expanding cities will see demand for water rising exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain.
Calling for need to enhance efficiency of water use in India, a top World Bank official said there is going to be mounting, increasing water deficits, or at least increasing demands for water across India.
In India, property related violence increases by about four per cent when there is below average rainfall and communal riots become more frequent following episodes of floods, the World Bank said.
In Gujarat, when groundwater irrigation became less available or more expensive due to a declining water table, farmers migrated to cities instead of seeking alternative adaptation strategies such as shifts in cropping patterns or more efficient irrigation technologies, it said.
“According to one estimate, groundwater pumping accounts for no less than four to six per cent of India’s total carbon emissions,” the World Bank said.
“Water scarcity is a major threat to economic growth and stability around the world, and climate change is making the problem worse,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
“If countries do not take action to better manage water resources, our analysis shows that some regions with large populations could be living with long periods of negative economic growth. But countries can enact policies now that will help them manage water sustainability for the years ahead,” he said.
World Bank Lead Economist Richard Damania said the climate models projections about the monsoons have wide variability; they come out with a number of results.
“So people do not know with the same measure of precision, for example, what will happen in India as they would, for example, in the Middle East. Having said that, all the models converge on a world in which the monsoons become much, much more intensive for a shorter period of time,” Damania said.
“So we are going to get either the same amount of rainfall or less rainfall in a shorter period of time with greater intensity, but that will vary of course across the years.
“Now having said that, what does this actually mean for India. Even if you stripped away climate change, the projections for India seem to suggest, because we combine population growth, we combine urbanisation which is reasonably rapid and we combine economic growth, all those forces together combine to increase the demand for water,” he said.
“So there is going to be mounting, increasing water deficits or at least increasing demands for water. And this really, really suggests that we need to enhance efficiency of water use,” Damania said.
As such one needs to look closely of course also at how ground water is used, because at the moment there is a large reliance on ground water, often pumped at unsustainable levels and it also implies allocating water more efficiently to more efficient uses.
“Let us not forget water is a natural resource. So if we neglect the water cycle, if we neglect the upstream forests, which are so essential to ensure that the water cycle endures and water goes where it should go, we really worsen the deficits that we actually have. So the same conclusions that the report would apply with equal force to India, but perhaps with somewhat more urgency given the rising demands,” he said.
The report also warns that reduced freshwater availability and competition from other uses such as energy and agriculture could reduce water availability in cities by as much as two thirds by 2050, compared to 2015 levels. Water insecurity could multiply the risk of conflict, the report added.
Food price spikes caused by droughts can inflame latent conflicts and drive migration. Where economic growth is impacted by rainfall, episodes of droughts and floods have generated waves of migration and spikes in violence within countries, it said.
The World Bank said unless action is taken soon, water will become scarce in regions where it is currently abundant – such as Central Africa and East Asia – and scarcity will greatly worsen in regions where water is already in short supply – such as the Middle East and the Sahel in Africa.
These regions could see their growth rates decline by as much as six per cent of GDP by 2050 due to water related impacts on agriculture, health and incomes, it added.