Water scarcity has lasting repercussions on affected populations. As populations grow, standards of living develop, and cities expand – the demand for water will rise. However, supply remains uncertain, despite demand skyrocketing. Competition from other freshwater uses, such as energy and agriculture for example, will further reduce the availability of the ever important resource. The problem would have global repercussions including in regions where freshwater availability is still abundant. If not addressed properly, water scarcity will become a catalyst for chaos for years to come.

A recent report from the World Bank concluded that climate-driven water scarcity can cause an array of social, political, and economic disturbances. In some regions suffering from water scarcity, the phenomenon can cost countries up to six percent of their GDP. These economic shifts can spill over to other countries, as migration caused by starvation and conflict begin to ensue.

Regions like the Middle East and and the Sahel in Africa are currently in short supply. The report predicts troubling situations where the chance of conflicts multiply at a significant rate. When food prices spike, droughts can further inflame dormant or latent conflicts. Wars drive migration from conflict-ridden areas, which causes further animosity and discontent with neighboring nations. Conflict combined with migration and lower production rates inevitably wanes GDP and disturbs economic growth.

Not all is hopeless however, as stronger governmental policies and institutional reforms can help mitigate some determinants for droughts. For example, India has seen one of its worst droughts in recent history in the aftermath of the “El Niño” weather pattern. Although the country has no control over mother nature, it could have done a much better job in preparing for the possibility of drought. Mismanagement of the water supply, as well as institutional corruption has depleted water supplies, leading to the nation’s current predicament.

Far-reach policies are needed to conserve already dwindling water supplies in dryer regions. These policies should curb inefficient water use, as well as address any catalysts for climate change and environmental damage. The World Bank’s report outlines a list of policies and investments countries can undertake in order to secure water supplies and create more climate-resilient economies.

“When governments respond to water shortages by boosting efficiency and allocating even 25 percent of water to more highly-valued uses, losses decline dramatically and for some regions, may even vanish. Improved water stewardship pays high economic dividends,” says Richard Damania, economist at the World Bank.

Governments could create infrastructure that will better conserve and allocate water resources. Other initiatives include adopting incentives to increase water efficiency, as well as creating water reserves. More has to be done to protect the Earth’s water resources before it is simply too late.

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