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Ten Years Away and Counting: The World’s Most Serious Risk

reicherdt, klaus, waterless coThe World Economic Forum has just released its Global Risks 2016 report of likely risks and their potential impact on the world. The report is divided into two sections: those risks that might occur in the next year to 18 months and others that may occur in the next ten years.

The report concluded that the most serious risk within the next ten years regards water: while this can include flooding, what is expected to have more impact is that hundreds of millions of people will have limited or no access to safe drinking water.

The Global Risks reports began in 2006 and water concerns have been listed on the report before, but never have they attained a top position for impact as they have in the 2016 report. Other risks were also noted such as failure to address climate change; mass migration; the spread of infectious disease; sanitation issues; and regional conflicts. Interestingly, water crises are often related and interconnected with all of these concerns.

Lack of water or safe drinking water can, for example, result in disease, sanitation issues, and migration from one area or country to another, as well as regional conflicts. In fact, this has been happening in many parts of the world for some time. But instead of being a small crisis here and there, the 2016 Report indicates that this may become a much bigger problem throughout the world.

Some of the challenges the world is facing when it comes to water include the following:

  • Currently it is believed that about one billion people live in areas where water is “stressed,” usually meaning in short supply, unsafe, or not reliably available.
  • About 95 percent of the earth’s underground aquifers are being used far more quickly than they can be replenished with rainwater.
  • The most productive farm regions in the world are already using about 70 percent of the world’s safe water supplies; by 2050, the World Bank predicts that global food production will need to increase by 50 percent, meaning even more of the world’s water will be needed for farming.
  • Some of the largest cities in the world – Jakarta, Mexico City, and even Houston, Texas — are pumping so much water from underground supplies that parts of these cities are actually sinking.

Further, this is also happening at a time when fracking, here in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, has increased tremendously. While it has reduced and potentially will eliminate our need for imported oil, one of the negatives of fracking is the amount of water the process requires: it is estimated that fracking used 250 billion gallons of water between 2005 and 2014. As more countries around the globe look to fracking to relieve their own needs for imported oil, look for this amount to grow in the future…if the water is available.

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One thought on “Ten Years Away and Counting: The World’s Most Serious Risk

  1. As stated in the Preface there is a need for systemic and long term thinking. Unfortunately both tend to be lacking because of the pressure to produce higher profits in the short term. In part this is caused by people being educated mostly in Critical Thinking which is “parts” thinking. In light of our much improved scientific understanding of the human mind and our world we also need to be educated in science-based Integrative Thinking which is “connections” thinking.

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