Water stress around the world. Graphic: WRI

By Charles Iceland
12 June 2015

(The Guardian) – Every inhabited continent, to varying degrees, has areas where there is extremely high water stress. These are areas where more than 80% of the local water supply is withdrawn by businesses, farmers, residents and other consumers every year.

These so-called stressed areas are also the ones most vulnerable to episodic droughts. With chronic overuse of water resources, it only takes a string of years with bad rainfall or poor management decisions to plunge a region into crisis and chaos. Here’s a look at seven extreme droughts that have occurred in the past decade.

Australia’s one-in-a-thousand-year drought

Australia’s “millennium” drought began in 1995 and continued country-wide until late 2009. Reservoir levels fell precipitously, as did crop production and industrial water use. A number of cities, including Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, built desalination plants in an effort to partially drought-proof themselves, while other areas pursued grey-water recycling projects. Between 2001 and 2012 the federal government provided $4.5 billion in assistance to drought-affected farmers and small businesses.

In 2010 and 2011, following quickly on the heels of the drought, Australia experienced its worst flooding in half a century, as an area of Queensland larger than the size of France and Germany flooded, affecting 200,000 people and costing at least $10 billion in damage.

Spain imports water by ship

Drought in Spain’s north-eastern region of Catalonia grew so severe in 2008 that Barcelona began importing water by ship from France. About 70% of Spain’s water goes to agriculture, and much of it is wasted through a combination of inefficient irrigation systems and water-thirsty crops unsuitable for the arid climate. Other critics say low water prices are the culprits as they result in profligate water use and low investment in water-efficient infrastructure. [more]

Decade of drought: a global tour of seven recent water crises



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