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Water shortages pose growing risk to global stability

Kristie Pladson
September 12, 2019

Climate change has increased global water security issues and made society more vulnerable to natural disasters, according to a new report. International efforts are necessary to curb the most devastating effects.

Women collect water during a heat wave in India
Image: Getty Images/AFP/H. Sharma

Securing access to clean water and protection against flooding and tsunamis is critical to safeguarding society against the effects of climate change, according to the 2019 World Risk Report published Thursday by the Institute of International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict at the University of Bochum.  

The annual report tracks and ranks catastrophe risks for 180 countries. The index rates a country’s risk of extreme weather, disaster management capabilities, vulnerability and ability to adapt.

Increasing occurrences of heat waves, hurricanes, and droughts mean water security is an ever-greater global issue. Water shortages could lead to wars, the 2019 report said.

“Politicians have to act swiftly in developing countries, in particular, to ensure all households have access to clean water,” said Peter Mucke, managing director of Entwicklung Hilft, the coalition that conducted the study. "After instances of extreme weather, the water supply needs to be restored quickly in order to ensure survival and prevent the spread of disease."

Poor families are particularly affected by water shortages. Many do not have running water in their homes and instead send their children to collect it from public stations. This often costs money, meaning the poorest are paying the most for water. It also keeps their children from attending school.

Read more: Germany facing risk of increased water shortages

Tropical islands most at risk

The report identified Oceania, Southeast Asia, Central America, and West and Central Africa as regions at high-risk of natural disasters. It also found that higher risk was closely linked to poverty and inequality.

The tropical island countries Vanuatu, Antigua and Barbuda, and Tonga were the nations most at risk to natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and rising sea levels. The risk for Vanuatu and Tonga has gone up since last year. Qatar and Malta rank as the countries facing the least at risk, the study found.

Floating homes in Amsterdam

But the study also pointed out that a high threat of natural disaster does not necessarily put a country higher on the risk ranking. Rising sea levels present a high risk for the Netherlands, for example, but the country’s overall ranking is improved by ability to cope with the potential disasters it faces.  

The authors of the report called for local, national, and international initiatives  to disrupt the cycle of danger and vulnerability present in the most affected countries.

"Without the will of international society to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement, local initiatives like planting mangrove forests to contain coastal erosion or early warning systems and evacuation drills will have only limited success," the authors wrote.

Read more: Germany's Angela Merkel urges China to do more for climate

Jakarta is sinking

kp/sms (AFP, epd)

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