10 Major Current Environmental Problems

Water scarđô thị threatens the health & development of communities around the globe. Climate change is intensifying the problem, pushing governments khổng lồ find more innovative sầu, collaborative ways khổng lồ address water căng thẳng.

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New Delhi residents fill containers with drinking water from a municipal tanker in June 2018. Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Water scarđô thị happens when communities can’t fulfill their water needs, either because supplies are insufficient or infrastructure is inadequate. Today, billions of people face some khung of water găng.Countries have often cooperated on water management. Still, there are a handful of places where transboundary waters are driving tensions, such as the Nile Basin.Climate change will likely exacerbate water ức chế worldwide, as rising temperatures lead to more unpredictable weather and extreme weather events, including floods và droughts.


Billions of people around the world laông chồng adequate access lớn one of the essential elements of life: clean water. Although governments và aid groups have helped many living in water-stressed regions gain access in recent years, the problem is projected to lớn get worse with the harmful effects of global warming and population growth.

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Water stress can differ dramatically from one place to another, in some cases causing wide-reaching damage, including khổng lồ public health, economic development, & global trade. It can also drive mass migrations và spark conflict. Now, pressure is mounting on countries lớn implement more sustainable and innovative practices and khổng lồ improve international cooperation on water management.

What is water stress?

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Water găng tay or scarthành phố occurs when demvà for safe, usable water in a given area exceeds the supply. On the demand side, the vast majority—roughly 70 percent—of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture, while the rest is divided between industrial (19 percent) và domestic uses (11 percent), including for drinking. On the supply side, sources include surface waters, such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, as well as groundwater, accessed through aquifers. 

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But scientists have sầu different ways of defining và measuring water bít tất tay, taking into lớn trương mục a variety of factors including seasonal changes, water unique, & accessibility. Meanwhile, measurements of water bít tất tay can be imprecise, particularly in the case of groundwater. “Any numbers out there have sầu lớn be taken with a grain of salternative text,” says Upmanu Lall, a Columbia University professor and water expert. “None of these definitions are typically accounting for groundwater usage, or groundwater stoông chồng.”

What causes water scarcity?

Water scarthành phố is often divided inlớn two categories: physical scarđô thị, when there is a shortage of water because of local ecological conditions; & economic scarthành phố, when there is inadequate water infrastructure. 

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The two frequently come together khổng lồ cause water bít tất tay. For instance, a stressed area can have both a shortage of rainfall as well as a lack of adequate water storage & sanitation facilities. Experts say that even when there are significant natural causes for a region’s water áp lực, human factors are often central khổng lồ the problem, particularly with regard to lớn access lớn clean water và safe sanitation.

“Almost always the drinking water problem has nothing to vì chưng with physical water scarcity,” says Georgetown University’s Mark Giordano, an expert on water management. “It has khổng lồ vị with the scarcity of financial & political wherewithal to put in the infrastructure to lớn get people clean water. It’s separate.”

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At the same time, some areas that suffer physical water scarđô thị have sầu the infrastructure that has allowed life there to thrive, such as in Oman & the southwestern United States.

A variety of authorities, from the national màn chơi down to lớn local jurisdictions, govern or otherwise influence the water supply. In the United States, more than half a dozen federal agencies deal with different aspects of water: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces regulations on clean water, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prepares for và responds khổng lồ water disasters. Similar authorities exist at the state và local levels to protect và oversee the use of water resources, including through zoning and rehabilitation projects.

Which regions are most water-stressed?

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the worst off in terms of physical water găng tay, according to lớn most experts. MENA receives less rainfall than other regions, and its countries tkết thúc to have sầu fast-growing, densely populated urban centers that require more water. But many countries in these regions, especially wealthier ones, still meet their water needs. For example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) imports nearly all of its food, alleviating the need lớn use water for agriculture. The UAE and other wealthy MENA countries also rely heavily on the desalination of abundant ocean water, albeit this process is an expensive sầu, energy-intensive one. 

Meanwhile, places experiencing significant economic scarđô thị include Central African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, which receives a lot of rain but lacks proper infrastructure và suffers from high levels of mismanagement.

Even high-income countries experience water găng. Factors including outdated infrastructure và rapid population growth have put tremendous bao tay on some U.S. water systems, causing crises in cities including Flint, Michigan, & Newark, New Jersey.

How is climate change affecting water stress?

Global warming is expected khổng lồ increase the number of water-stressed areas and heighten water bao tay in already affected regions. Subtropical areas, such as Australia, the southern United States, & North African countries, are expected lớn warm and suffer more frequent & longer droughts; however, when rainfall does occur in these regions, it is projected khổng lồ be more intense. Weather in tropical regions will likewise become more variable, climate scientists say. 

Agriculture could become a particular challenge. Farming suffers as rainfall becomes more unpredictable and rising temperatures accelerate the evaporation of water from soil. A more erratic climate is also expected to bring more floods, which can wipe out crops, overwhelm storage systems, và sweep up sediment that can clog treatment facilities. 

In a 2018 report, a panel consisting of many of the world’s top climate researchers showed that limiting global warming lớn a maximum 1.5°C above sầu preindustrial levels—the ayên ổn of the Paris Agreement on climate—could substantially reduce the likelihood of water căng thẳng in some regions, such as the Mediterranean & southern Africa, compared to lớn an unchecked increase in temperature. However, most experts say the Paris accord will not be enough lớn prsự kiện the most devastating effects of climate change.

What are its impacts on public health & development?

Prolonged water bức xúc can have sầu devastating effects on public health and economic development. More than two billion people worldwide lack access lớn safe drinking water; và nearly double that number—more than half the world’s population—are without adequate sanitation services. These deprivations can spur the transmission of diseases such as cholera, typhoid, polio, hepatitis A, và diarrhea.

At the same time, because water scarthành phố makes agriculture much more difficult, it threatens a community’s access to lớn food. Food-insecure communities can face both acute và chronic hunger, where children are more at risk of conditions stemming from malnutrition, such as stunting and wasting, và chronic illnesses due khổng lồ poor diet, such as diabetes.