Many countries and regions of the world suffer from prolonged periods of drought. Its inhabitants look with horror at the dwindling supply of drinking water. Hydrologists note an increasing disruption of the entire water cycle in nature. The global water crisis can affect people’s lives. According to the latest UN report, The State of Climate Services 2021: Water, by 2050, as many as 5 billion people may experience permanent or temporary problems accessing drinking water.
The world is under water pressure
The report’s authors write that water access problems do exist today. – On the one hand, we have catastrophic floods that this year killed millions of people in South and East Asia, for example in Japan, China, Nepal, Pakistan and European countries – says the professor. Petteri Taalas, Secretary of the World Meteorological Organization. On the other hand, many countries, especially in Africa, lack water. Nearly two billion people already have limited access to drinking water and sanitation.
Over the past 20 years, the water level in seas, oceans, rivers and the surface layer of the soil has decreased by one centimeter per year. And only 0.5 percent. One of these resources is fresh water suitable for drinking and feeding crops.
Extreme events also worsen from year to year. In the past 20 years, the number of droughts worldwide has increased by 29 percent and catastrophic floods by 134 percent. – We read in the report of the United Nations. 3.6 billion people currently have limited access to drinking water for at least one month of the year.
Because of the water crisis, for example, California, Mexico, the Andes in South America, almost all of Africa except for the tropics, Central Asia, the Middle East, India, southeast Australia and the whole of southern Europe, mainly the Iberian Peninsula.
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It rains less, and evaporates more
– Since the middle of the twentieth century, we have observed that the cycle of precipitation and water evaporation in the world is changing. More and more water evaporates into the atmosphere – says the professor. Jacek Piskozub, an ocean physicist from the Institute of Oceanography of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Sopot. This is because the world is getting warmer and the Earth is heating up much faster than the seas. It makes the water disappear from the land and accumulate in the seas. The water level in the terrestrial reservoirs of fresh water decreases, and in the salty oceans it grows – explains Professor D. Biscozobe.
The areas around the tropics will be affected the most by the lack of drinking water. It is not known whether stopping the increase in average air temperature will change this negative trend. – We are still studying these relationships, but it is possible that the imbalance in precipitation and evaporation will persist for years after the global temperature has stabilized – says the professor. Biscozobe. It seems that this precipitation balance will be somewhat negative for the whole world. – Only northern countries, such as Sweden, Norway and Canada, may record a steady increase in the amount of precipitation – adds the professor. Biscozobe.
Our part of Europe is not included in the UN report on places particularly threatened by water shortages, but this does not mean that we do not have negative hydrological processes. – Poland’s water resources seem to be stable and have an average of about 1.6 cubic meters per capita per year, but we are a very poor country in drinking water – says Michau Marcinkowski, hydrologist from the Institute for Environmental Protection – National Research Institute in Warsaw. According to Eurostat data, only Czechs, Danes, Cypriots and Maltese have less drinking water per capita than us.
In the Polish climate, the problem lies not only in the small amount of drinking water per capita, but also in the rapid disappearance of surface water and fluctuations in the amount of water available throughout the year. This is due to the variable amount and nature of precipitation. Compared to other countries in our part of Europe, we have less precipitation, because Poland is in a transitional climatic zone where continental and oceanic influences collide.
In addition, in recent years we have been dealing with more and more torrential rains, and between them are longer droughts. Days with moderate precipitation are missing. – This is a very unfavorable phenomenon, because such heavy rains seep into the soil to a relatively small extent, they only flow quickly, flowing into rivers and then into the sea. So the water remains unused. Dry soil does not absorb water well, it can be observed by watering dried flowers in a pot. Water does not seep into the ground, does not retain it, but remains on the dry surface or flows through cracks and sides – explains Michau Marcinkowski.
The situation was not improved by pouring concrete in cities and river valleys. – Water quickly flows from the surface of the closed land or causes floods, and accumulates in the depressions – adds the hydrologist.
The water is leaking from the rivers
Regulation and excessive concrete have caused rivers in Poland to dry up. Since the end of the twentieth century, its water level has decreased rapidly. The deepening of the bed and the closing of its banks leads to rapid erosion of the bottom. The current in the regulated river is faster and stronger, it washes the soil layer from the bottom, significantly reducing the water level. This has an unfavorable domino effect over the entire area of a particular river: tributaries, streams and underground waterways are disappearing, wells are drying up.
On top of all this, there are less snowy winters. – The dense snow cover in the spring effectively replenishes the lack of groundwater – says Michau Marcinkovsky. The snow is slowly melting and the water is seeping into the ground and into its deep layers. In recent years, it has become less frequent. Warmer winters mean the snow cover is short and very thin. There is no opportunity to water the soil in the spring. It flows rapidly in rivers and into the sea – says the professor. Biscozobe.
All this means that although the amount of precipitation in Poland is similar to that of other years, the level of surface water, from which we often derive fresh water for water supply systems, is very low for an increasing part of the year. One of the most visible manifestations of insufficient waterlogging of our soils was the events that occurred in Biebrza National Park in the spring of 2020 – says Michał Marcinkowski. Huge fires, which are difficult to put out, broke out there. Under normal conditions, when there was snow on the meadows of the Biberza River all winter, the peat acted like a sponge, absorbing water and storing huge amounts of it. Peat bogs are the best retention systems that not only absorb water but then, in the drier times of the year, release it slowly, keeping wetlands and bogs moist.
Unfortunately, the peat bogs of Biebrza look less like wet bogs, and more and more like dry dust. After the winter of 2020, when there was practically no snow, the accidental onset of a fire caused vast tracts of dry grass to coalesce, among which there was a swamp that burned for weeks.
However, northeastern Poland, with its thousands of lakes and vast wetlands, was until recently the last place we suspected of drought problems. – Just like Pomerania, which seemed to be well protected from the deterioration of water resources. However, it turns out that there is less and less water in Pomerania. For several years, we have been noticing a water shortage near Gdansk. It is similar in the southernmost regions of Europe, where the water level drops by one centimeter every year, says the professor. Biscozobe. The worst situation is in central Poland and in a large area of Wielkopolska. There, for several decades, there have been changes known as tap dance. With its vegetation and landscape, this area began to resemble the Kazakh steppes.
In central Poland, the problem is not only a lack of precipitation, but also human activity. – The biggest culprit is the Bełchatów exposed mine, where a huge funnel digging in the ground caused the groundwater level to drop in the entire area – the professor explains. Biscozobe. Falling water levels, whether underground or surface, are also a major technological problem. – A drop in the water level in a river or well can cause problems in the effective operation of the water intakes, since they were not designed for the current hydrological conditions. Today, these are the most common reasons for restrictions on the use of water, which are introduced locally in periods of greatest drought – explains Michau Marcinkowski.
Our industry, which consumes up to 72% of water, is threatened by water imbalances. Water consumed in Poland, agriculture, which uses 10 per cent. amount of water. Experts estimate that up to 45 percent. In the coming years, the arable land in Poland will be threatened by agricultural drought, i.e. lower yields due to lack of water. Food and electricity prices will rise, because power plants need huge amounts of water to cool the facility. – There are already cases when power plants need to be partially shut down, because the water level in the tanks is too low to effectively cool the devices – says Michal Marcinkowski.
And the water shortage also means more people are showing up at our borders, fleeing catastrophic droughts in their own countries. As climate scientists assert, we live in a global village and the water crisis will affect the entire world in one way or another.
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