With the historic agreement at the recent COP21 climate change conference in Paris, the world’s leaders finally seem to recognize the magnitude of the risks we face. One of the most immediate threats is water scarcity as global temperature increases change global climatic patterns.
Countries like my own homeland of Cyprus are already experiencing prolonged and frequent droughts which demonstrate, as President Obama said, that climate change is not some far-off future risk, but a danger that we must confront now.
The most recent drought in Cyprus lasted four years between 2004 and 2008, and caused reservoir levels on the island to plunge. Groundwater and desalination proved insufficient to meet demand. There were 30 percent cuts to water supplies, giving households only just enough water to live on. People were fined for using more than their share.
Farming on Cyprus was badly affected as there was no water for irrigation and livestock, leading to illegal water abstraction from aquifers. At the height of the crisis, the government imported eight million cubic meters of water over six months from Greece at a cost of over €40 million (US$43.4 million).
Despite this, policymakers, businesses and citizens see the 2008 situation as a one-off “freak” event rather than something that could increasingly become the “new normal.”
My research suggests that water scarcity is indeed the new normal on Cyprus. I studied the effect of climate change on the Kouris Dam reservoir which supplies 40 percent of the country’s water for agricultural irrigation. The results show that decreases in rainfall and increases in evaporation mean that water levels in the reservoir will decrease in future.
While problems due to water shortages become ever more acute, action is delayed because low water prices mitigate against the financial case for investing in water conservation. Prices signal value to consumers, and it is important that policymakers use prices to reflect the increasing scarcity of water and its importance to sustaining life.
Working at Trucost has shown me that businesses can act now to prepare for increasing water scarcity by getting better information on the water they consume at their production sites and through their supply chains. They need to understand how their use of water in drought-prone regions creates risks for their business, so that these can be factored into plans for business growth alongside operational costs and revenue forecasts.