Weather extremes + Global food supply

The decade of 2001-2010 saw “unprecedented high-impact climate extremes” across the planet, with floods, droughts and hurricanes killing 370,000 people, a 20 percent increase over the previous decade.

A new UN’s World Meterological Organization report, “The Global Climate 2001-2010, A Decade of Extremes” (available here), found that this was the warmest decade for both land and ocean temperature since recordings began in 1850, which lead to rapid melting of Arctic sea ice and land glaciers.

Decisions on flood defenses and dams, for instance, are often based on past experience and not on the likely future. But the past climate is no longer a sufficient guide to the future. We need to anticipate the climate we shall have in the next 50 to 100 years. It’s a huge challenge.

Floods were the most frequent extreme weather event, but droughts affected more people ‘due to their large-scale and long-lasting nature,’ the report found. However, hurricanes, of which there were 500 in the decade, were responsible for nearly half of all natural disaster-related deaths, killing nearly 170,000 people and causing an estimated $380 billion USD in damages.

Extreme flooding occurred in Eastern Europe, India, Africa, Australia and Pakistan. Extreme droughts affected Australia, East Africa and the Amazon Basin.

Moreover, global food supplies are seriously at risk due to dried up wells in the Middle East and parts of India, China and the United States. Harvests are smaller this year as half the world population has reached ‘peak water’, meaning using water faster than it can be replenished. The weather is partly contributing to this crisis.

The Middle East is particularly bad. Among the countries whose water supply has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Saudi Arabia is the first country to publicly project how aquifer depletion will shrink its grain harvest. The kingdom projects that by 2016, it will be importing some 15 million tons of wheat, rice, corn and barley to feed its 30 million people.

And in three largest food producing countries in the world — China, the United States and India — there is growing concern over falling water tables.

“The world is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 10,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them.”

The margin between food consumption and survival is precarious in India, whose population is growing by 18 million per year and where irrigation depends almost entirely on underground water. Farmers have drilled some 21 million irrigation wells and are pumping vast amounts of underground water, and water tables are declining at an accelerating rate in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu [states].”

There are other countries that are on the verge of reaching ‘peak water’, such as Mexico and Pakistan.

More info: ‘The real threat to our future is peak water‘, The Guardian.

Published on AquaInfo, formerly Ooskanews.

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