Water scarcity is one of the most urgent, life-threatening problems facing humanity today. With a global population expected to grow to 9.6 billion by 2050, the demand on farms—which already consume 70 percent of the world’s freshwater—is growing far faster than it can be met. Experts predict that nearly half of the world will experience “high water stress” by 2030. It should come as no surprise that these same experts are calling for a major transformation of the agricultural sector on a global scale to mitigate the crisis.
Although the Rainforest Alliance works primarily in tropical regions where standing forests are in peril, we also work in several regions of high water stress, including Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya and Rwanda. For hundreds of thousands of farmers who have participated in our sustainability programs, climate change is already affecting growing seasons and crop yields. That’s why the water conservation measures we promote—from shade requirements on coffee farms and reforestation efforts to the creation of buffer zones to protect streams and rivers—are critical to a viable future.
Although people in Mexico, Guatemala and much of Africa have been suffering the effects of the global water crisis for some time, North America has until recently been relatively insulated from the destabilizing effects of prolonged drought. But today, as wildfires rage throughout the western US and into Canada and the Texas fishing industry withers away, we on this continent are finally beginning to experience high water stress—the result of unsound agricultural practices and climate change. The mega-drought in California, where more than half of the produce in the US is grown, threatens food supplies for the entire country.
The causes and effects of the particular crises in North America are complex, intertwined as they are with climate change, politics, agricultural policies and finance. Here, we offer some in-depth articles that can help you understand the underpinnings of the water crises that have begun to manifest here at home.
- To start, this New York Times feature gives some historical context and basic background to the California drought: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/us/california-drought-tests-history-of-endless-growth.html
- This series of “cards” address each point of the California drought and give quick, thorough explanations: http://www.vox.com/cards/california-drought-water, followed by these five maps to show exactly where water shortages exist in the US: http://www.vox.com/2014/5/15/5720870/drought-california-us-maps
- Then, take a look at this short video, produced by the independent, non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, which gives a quick explanation of how groundwater, streams, rain, and policy are all related: https://projects.propublica.org/killing-the-colorado/story/video-groundwater-explained
- After the video, read ProPublica’s long-form piece, which explores how inaccurate measures of water resources, plus politics, account for shrinking water reservoirs: https://projects.propublica.org/killing-the-colorado/story/groundwater-drought-california-arizona-miscounting-water
- This story from Mother Jones explains how the increasing global supply for almonds, complicated financial investments, and back-room deals, is affecting groundwater supplies in California’s Central Valley: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/01/california-drought-almonds-water-use
- For a farmer’s perspective on water scarcity in the West, take a look at this Medium post, complete with stunning photos: https://medium.com/matter/why-the-california-drought-is-all-your-fault-55f81a947ce2
- Finally, here’s what the future of agriculture in the West could look like: http://grist.org/article/what-will-happen-when-the-floods-hit-drought-parched-california/
- If your interest in water is now piqued—and we hope it is—here is a top-notch resource for regular water news: http://www.circleofblue.org/new/