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Drought: A Creeping Disaster

In the American south, 14 states are baking in blast-furnace conditions — from Arizona, which is battling the largest wildfire in its history, to Florida, where fires have burned some 200,000 acres so far.

Climatologists call drought a creeping disaster because its effects are not felt at once; however, there is little disagreement about the severity of the current drought and its long-term implications. Worse, drought could become a permanent condition in some regions.

Richard Seagar, analyst of historical records and climate model projections for the Southwest for the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, comments that the term ‘drought’ implies a temporary change. “The models show a progressive aridification. You don’t say, ‘The Sahara is in drought.’ It’s a desert.”

“If the models are right,” he says, “then the Southwest will face a permanent drying out.”

In a NY Times article titled Drought: A Creeping Disaster, author Alex Prud’Homme highlights the ongoing water crisis in the US and in Australia as illustration of the urgent attention needed for forward-thinking policy and infrastructure design.

Urban contributors to water shortage include drought conditions driven by climate change, exacerbated by increased burdens on water supply due to growing population, and unsustainable rates of water consumption.

Prud’homme’s article identifies possible responses, including increased construction of hydro-infrastructure, weather modification, desalination of ocean water, recycling and purification of wastewater, rainwater collection, and as demonstrated by Singapore, national water management by a sophisticated, well-financed, politically autonomous water authority.

Global demand for water is expected to increase by two-thirds by 2025, and the United Nations fears a “looming water crisis.” To forestall a drought emergency, we must redefine how we think of water, value it, and use it.

ACT’s fifth report “Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance” authored by Bob Sandford, Chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade, due for release in September 2011, will outline new opportunities for effective water management in Canada.

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