The icepack on high mountain chains is shrinking, emptying the rivers it once fed in practically every continent. Around the world, large lakes are drying up, especially in Central Asia, China, sub-Saharan Africa and the South American Andes. 50,000 dams break up the world's major rivers, sparking increased disputes over water between neighbouring countries. Most of the world's large rivers are badly polluted with chemicals, nutrients and sediment.
The water crisis is sneaking up on humanity unawares. People turn on the tap and assume clean, safe water will always flow. But the reality is that supplies are already critical for 4.2 billion people - over half the world's population. During times of drought, megacities like Sao Paulo, La Paz, Los Angeles, Santiago, 32 Indian cities and 400 Chinese cities are now at risk.
Pope Francis recently warned that we could be moving toward "a major world war for water". He deliberately altered his prepared speech to issue this caveat when addressing an international seminar on the human right to water, hosted by the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Feb. 23 and 24, 2017.
Each of the last three UN secretaries-general – Ban Ki-Moon, Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali – has warned of the dangers of world water scarcity and of ‘water wars' in the future. The world's leading scientific journal, Nature, issued a sobering warning of water scarcity under climate change in December 2013.
Especially overlooked is the impact of water scarcity on the world food supply. As cities energy and mining corporations combine to rob farmers of the water needed to grow crops, the global irrigation sector is stagnating at a time when it needs to double food output to meet rising global demand for food.