New report: Climate change could see London and other world cities run out of water

Scorched Earth: The impact of drought on 10 world cities

Published 16 May 2022

A report into the impact of climate change on cities, which is becoming increasingly important as more and more people live in them.

One of the most severe impacts, which is already starting to bite, is cities running out of water.

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– New report reveals drought is a present danger to some of the poorest people in the world and it threatens their lives and livelihoods, from Harare in Zimbabwe to London and the South East.  

– Without action to cut emissions and better management of freshwater resources, Christian Aid warns the toll will be felt acutely by the poor. Christian Aid is calling for and an international fund to pay for climate caused loss and damage. 

– The report is supported by polling that shows UK public believe that rich countries should pay to mitigate the impact of drought (36%) while almost half (49%) of adults are now concerned about the impact of drought on people in the UK. 

As a heatwave heads to the UK, and Indian cities battle with record temperatures, a new report from Christian Aid highlights how the climate crisis is increasing the severity of drought in ten of the world’s major cities and demands an international fund to pay for climate caused loss and damage. 

Despite covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface, only 3% of the world’s water is suitable for drinking. Of this fresh water, 70% is locked in glaciers and ice caps. Less than 0.01% of all fresh water worldwide is available for human use in lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Despite this, Christian Aid analysis shows global water use grew at more than twice the rate of population increases over the course of the 20th century. 

Just last month, there was water rationing in the Chilean capital, Santiago and people have been queuing for water in New Delhi where temperatures have got so high that heatstroke is a risk even without doing any physical activity. In 2018, after extended drought, Cape Town came within days of becoming the first major city in the world to run out of water. ‘Day Zero’, when the taps for 4 million inhabitants would be turned off, was averted after emergency measures were implemented to cut the city’s water usage by 50%. 

Even in the UK, London has experienced heatwaves in recent years and the CEO of the Environment Agency, James Bevan, warned that within 25 years London and the South East of England could run out of water. The cost of a severe drought to London’s economy is estimated by Thames Water to be £330m per day, and would have severe economic, social and environmental consequences. The Environment Agency has said that by 2050 some rivers will see 50%-80% less water during the summer months. 

The report – Scorched Earth: The impact of drought on 10 world cities – has been published alongside new polling by Savanta, commissioned by Christian Aid. The data reveals that given several options, a plurality of the UK public believe that rich countries should pay to mitigate the impact of drought (36%). The data also reveals nearly 6 in 10 (57%) people see the connection between their own actions and drought, but less than 3 in 10 (27%) see the connection and are spurred into action.  

With heatwaves hitting the UK in recent years, almost half (49%) of adults across the UK are now concerned about the impact of drought on people in the UK. Despite this, over 6 in 10 (64%) agree that they have never seen information about how to protect themselves from it. 

The ten cities featured in the report, publishes on the eve of Christian Aid Week, are Sydney, Harare, Sao Paulo, Phoenix, Beijing, Kabul, New Delhi, Cape Town, Cairo and London. The danger of city droughts are only set to get worse without action to address climate change. Currently, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with this set to rise to 68% by 2050.  

Without action to cut emissions and better management of freshwater resources, Christian Aid warns the toll will be felt acutely by the poor. According to the UN, lower-income city residents can pay up to 50 times more for a litre of water than their wealthier neighbours because they often have to buy from private vendors. Cities in poorer countries are also far more vulnerable than those in richer countries as they have fewer resources to adapt to the water shortages. 


Ukraine

The report also highlights the impact that drought is having in driving conflict, and in particular, in Crimea, the part of Ukraine annexed by Russia in 2014.  The region is vulnerable to climate change and since the annexation Ukraine protested by diverting the North-Crimea Channel which provides 85% of Crimea’s water, sparking tensions in Russia and with prominent politicians like Konstantin Zatulin calling for a more aggressive foreign policy towards Ukraine.  

“Research by the Pacific Institute has shown that conflicts over water, both within countries and between countries, are sharply increasing. In the 29 years between 1960-1989 there was 1.27 per year. But in the 27 years between 1990-2007 there was 4.61 per year.” 

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Post expires on July 25th, 2022