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Drinking water is a basic human right and essential to our health, whether we use it for drinking, food production or hygiene. But it is also a limited resource.
How Many Miles Is 12km
Only 3% of Earth’s water is fresh water, most of it in frozen glaciers, ice caps or deep underground.
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As climate change accelerates the frequency of extreme weather events and higher temperatures, our fresh water supply shrinks and the risks to human health increase.
It is one of the many reasons why the world is running out of water. From a growing population demanding more food and energy to extensive use in agriculture and industry, water stress is increasing.
Water scarcity can lead to human displacement and poverty. Contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and polio. And for millions of women and children, the physical effort of walking up to 12 kilometers a day to collect water puts their health at risk.
In California, devastating drought and rising temperatures are affecting the water cycle. These extreme weather conditions cause increased evaporation and changes in precipitation patterns.
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This US state relies on snow for about 30% of its water supply, but snow is scarce in increasingly dry conditions.
Its inhabitants are experiencing a reduction in water availability, and as the world continues to warm, the situation will worsen.
While most cities have invested in diversifying water supplies and expanding conservation efforts, smaller rural communities that rely on wells are increasingly vulnerable. Today, nearly 400,000 Californians rely on drinking water that may contain chemical contaminants. Drought can further increase these pollutants, while fire damage to well equipment can add toxic chemicals to the water.
Changing water is already damaging people’s health. For example, following the 2018 wildfires in Butte County, the most destructive wildfires in California history, chemical contamination in the drinking water system led to health risks and restrictions on water use. In a survey of more than 200 households following the fire, 54% said that at least one member of their household had experienced anxiety, stress or depression related to the search for clean water and pollution problems.
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NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens. Landsat images courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the US Geological Survey.
Nine thousand kilometers from the California crisis, Kenyans are facing an even greater water shortage linked to the climate and the serious health risks it brings.
The country contributes less than 0.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually, but is one of the most vulnerable to climate change.
The extensive drought has led to extreme food insecurity and famine. Ngawosa Eregai, a community health worker in Turkana County, says: “The biggest challenge we have is the lack of water.”
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Four or five people have to use their hands to dig deep holes in the ground where the rivers used to be to reach the water. “We drink this water because we have no choice,” Ngawasa said. “We are confident that it will not be harmful.”
For Esther Elaar, who carries and carries water for her family to use every day, the four hour journey affects her physical health. “My whole body is sore,” he said. “I usually carry 20 liters of water at a time because the water point is far away.”
The long, hot walk to the water disproportionately affects pregnant women like Esther. Their babies die before they are born.
“As I carry water, I feel that the baby in my womb is moving,” said Esther. “A number of women have had abortions in this area while going to fetch water.”
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Esther Elaar, a pregnant mother from Kenya, carries and carries 20 liters of water for her family to use every day. Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaaction/our-work/climate-change-resilience/living-climate-change/kenya-maternal-health
Groundwater in Germany, which supplies nearly 70% of the country’s drinking water, is dwindling. Iran’s receding Lake Urmia is becoming saltier as it shrinks, affecting the water, soil and clean air available to village residents. And a prolonged drought in Peru is harming agriculture and access to drinking water in indigenous communities.
With just 2°C of warming, up to three billion people are predicted to experience chronic water shortages. But we have the knowledge and tools to prevent this from happening.
It involves implementing strategies such as water conservation and restoring freshwater ecosystems such as wetlands. To achieve this, massive political action, increased financial investment and a whole-of-society approach are needed.
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We fund basic research into the impact climate change is having on human health around the world, at national, regional and global levels.
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Photo story AuthorFlorence Goupil Water is like gold to us: how extreme climate is endangering the lives of indigenous communities
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