Maps

Mapping Global Water Stress

An online tool visualizes various unpleasant water-scarce scenarios.

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World Resources Institute

Water scarcity is likely to be one of the great problems facing the planet this century. Various risk factors contribute to the scarcity of clean water. A new mapping tool from the World Resources Institute visualizes how those risk factors can combine to create large problems, or how conditions can be improved to reduce the potential for water shortages between now and 2095.

The Water Risk Atlas shows how variable environmental conditions, human activities and regulatory environments affect the stability of water sources all over the world. One-year and three-year socioeconomic droughts can be displayed, as can baseline water stress, seasonal variability, inter-annual variability, and flood frequency. The tool also shows projected water stress levels for the years 2025, 2050 and 2095, under three different climate change scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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The year 2095, for example, is not looking to great for a lot of places. In the most pessimistic of those scenarios, A2, some pretty extreme stress rates can be seen in the Ogallala Aquifer area in the central U.S., as well as Central America, most of northern Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

A cool feature zooms in to examine specific water basins, though only two are currently available. The tool's variable weighting system allows users to see how different environmental and use conditions would affect water risk in specific sections of the basin. Users can change weights to see how a higher or lower seasonal variability would affect overall water risk, or what impact a reduction in upstream storage would have. The map even displays how increased water monitoring and media attention could affect water risk in different parts of the basin. The site will soon include four additional basins for specific coverage.

While the data isn't complete, the mapping tool offers a detailed and disturbing look at the water scarcity issues that lay not too far ahead.

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.