Drought, or flood? Or both? – The effect of climate change on the water cycle.

Finally there is an international signal towards the ‘vitality’ of water. This year marked the launch of the UN Water Action Decade – a decade dedicated wholly to water. (I’ve got a good 10 years of a blog then!) The tides are turning and awareness on this issue is rising. Currently 1 in 9 people still live without safe access to water, a number staggeringly high when “water is a matter of life or death” (UN Secretary-General António Guterres). 

Yet water issues are not solely water shortages or a lack of clean, safe water. 

To add to the already pressing water issues, climate change is drastically changing the water cycle – altering the amount, distribution, timing and quality of available water. The result? More frequent droughts, heavier rain, and rising sea levels. Ironic that many will have too much water whilst others not enough. 

  1. Drought

The planet is warming. Almost every year since 1992 have been the hottest according to NASA data. It’s common knowledge that as temperatures increase, water evaporates and the result is drought. By 2050 over 40% of the world’s population are likely to be living in river basins under severe water stress. That is an alarming number. 

Last year I went to New York for a United Nations model simulation representing Iran. Discovering stories of Lake Urmia that has lost 90% of its water since the 1970s, displacing whole communities and livelihoods was eye opening. A story of the start of climate migration that will certainly contend with the levels of migration that we have been experiencing over the last few years. Yet what it really highlighted was although politics and national narratives depict Iran as revolutionary or the enemy, their environmental experiences are a result of the global warming of the whole world – my footprint and yours. 

Lake Urmia in Iran is just a single lesser known story of drought-ridden areas, more recently Cape Town’s water crisis has made media headlines. Commentators argue that stories like Cape Town will only become more prevalent in years to come, and it is not a matter of if cities run out but when (New York Magazine). 

2. Heavier rains – floods

All those warmer temperatures that we may be appreciating means less snow, and more rain. Less skiing holidays, more traditional British rain holidays. Having lived in Paris for the last 2 years I’ve seen the River Seine burst it’s banks and flood. A contrast to the long summer days sipping rosé with the residents of Paris that flocks to it’s banks, in winter lay 20 feet submerged. Evacuations of homes and art work will become the norm, as even the Mona Lisa is at risk. Global urban flood damages cost $120 billion annually – a number that is set to rise. 

 

3. Rising sea levels – coastal flooding

Cities being lost to water is not only dystopian fiction but a potential reality. Sea levels are rising as: ice sheets, caps, and glaciers melt; and as the ocean expands as it warms. Since the GRACE mission launched (see previous blog post), it has recorded that Greenland has been losing about 280 gigatons of ice per year on average – a bit less than twice the weight of Mount Everest! Cities like Miami are pumping millions into adaptation however the sad truth is retreat may be the ultimate option. 

And so what? I’m about to leave Paris, and I certainly don’t live in Iran, Miami, nor Greenland. Our actions every day impact someone else’s life, even if they are the other side of the world. Think about what you can do to lessen your global footprint and make changes in your every day life. Keep following SavingtheGrace blog and @savingthegrace on instagram for daily info on tips on how we can all make an impact, one action and one drop at a time. 

Big love

Emily xx