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Iraq Drought

Cape Town may have avoided its water crisis for now, but these countries face dry taps too


WASHINGTON, D.C. (Circa)--There could be other Cape Towns out there.

And no, not in the literal sense. There still only remains one place in the world where you can take in the breathtaking beauty of Table Mountain.

I'm talking about water resources.

Until last month, the city of Cape Town, South Africa, faced an apocalyptic-like threat--a day when the government would be forced to switch off taps to homes and businesses because of dangerously low water reservoirs. The so-called "Day Zero" has since been delayed until 2019, but similar water crises in other parts of the world could pop up in the future, according to data collected by the World Resources Institute.

"We're seeing a lot of areas where really intense droughts are hitting, and reservoirs are falling and you're having Cape Town-like worries."
Charles Iceland, Aqueduct Director at the World Resources Institute (WRI)

Iceland and his team used a newly developed tool called the "Resource Watch Platform" to collect and display data about the planet's well-being. The interactive maps can identify areas that are, for instance, vulnerable to climate change, water depletion, and coral reef bleaching.

"What we do is collect information, not only information that we gather ourselves, but third-party information on the conditions of the world's resources, and on the political, social and economic context in which these resource changes are happening," Iceland continued.

A Cape Town resident unveils what it's like to live in a city that will run out of water

His team took a look at countries located in the mid-latitude band of the world. It's these areas on either side of the Earth's tropics, he says, where climate change models predict less rainfall. With those limited perimeters, Iceland and his team identified four countries that are experiencing similar water crises to that of Cape Town's: Morocco, Spain, Iraq and India. Water reservoirs in places like Mosul and Al Massira are shrinking as the demand for water increases.

"What we're seeing is when droughts occur, they're occurring for a longer time period, and they're coming on more intensity than they did in the prior century," Iceland explained. "They keep on demanding more and more from the reservoir. Meanwhile there's less and less rainfall, so water resources are being pressured from both sides, from both the demand side and supply side."

Less supply and more demand could facilitate a situation where governments are forced to intervene in order to preserve their dwindling natural resources. However, Iceland says the playing field isn't equal. Wealthier countries like Spain are more equipped to deal with drier conditions than those of, say, India. In Spain, for example, the government pays their farmers insurance when crops fail. That's unlikely to happen, he added, in poorer countries that also have a higher dependence on the agriculture sector.

"Agriculture makes up a lot less of Spain's GDP, it's about two percent, whereas in a lot of other developing countries such as Morocco, such as South Africa or Iraq or India, agriculture's role in total GDP is much higher, and the number of people employed in agriculture is much higher," Iceland said

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As a result, Iceland argued that these countries have fewer options, and may even have to take drastic measures if water reservoirs become dangerously low. This could mean that farmers have to resort to more drought-resistant crops, or give up farming altogether, since it does, Iceland says, uses about 80 percent of all water used.

But the news isn't all bad, especially as technological developments make information more accessible to the public than ever. This is key, Iceland says, in tackling seemingly overwhelming global issues with full-fledged transparency and accountability.

He continued, "I think a lot of countries used to hide information on their water resources, how much water was available. Now we see that, we have satellites that can track the situation on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis, and that makes the people managing water and the governments that oversee them a lot more accountable for how well they're managing their water resource."

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