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Let's not let climate change distract us from our current problems

Chris Perry's picture
Gathering water. Kenya
   Photo: © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

All "new" priorities risk diverting attention from "old" ones. Climate change seems no different. It seems likely that climate change, through its impact on temperatures and rainfall, will have negative affects on existing water stress in many countries. Crop water demand will increase with temperature, rainfall will decrease in many areas and become more erratic in most. Further, we are already substantially over-drafting many aquifers and damaging river eco-systems.

In parallel with these concerns, Vorasmarty et al (2000) estimate that the impact of economic and population growth will substantially exceed the impacts of climate change on the water demand/supply balance.

Estimates of the cost of adapting to climate change such as those recently published by the World Bank could illuminate this debate and help identify the most effective interventions if distinctions were made among: the current disequilibrium between supply and demand; incremental water demands resulting from growth; and incremental water supply/demand effects that will result from climate change.

Climate change may be dominant—but it is worth asking the question before all piling on to the new bandwagon.


Submitted by Shabani on
Dear Chris, Thank you for this very interesting post. Is climate change considered as a "new" priority? How do we explain to the Buduma people that what happened to Lake Chad is "new" after almost 95% of the lake shrinks? How do we console Batwa population who, for many years were forced to leave their homes in the Congo forest? How do we explain these repeated and severe droughts to Massai in Tanzania or the population living near Lake Nyassa? How do we report to fisherman at the Tanganyika Lake about the scarcity of fish? This priority can be "new" for industrialized countries but for those poor people in Africa who are disproportionately affected by the effect of climate change while contributing to it by only 3%, this is not a new priority for them; it is old and need to be taken seriously. Unlike financial crisis, climate change problems did not happen overnight. Nature has been suffering for long time more than any other system, but unfortunately it doesn't do bails-out. Ely

Dear Ely: Thanks for these comments -- I do not know enough about the specific cases you quote to understand whether they are the result of climate change or (in the case of Lake Chad) the result of excessive diversions upstream, or (in the case of lake Tanganyika) the result of over-fishing. That said, I believe your examples rather confirm my point: there are many, many serious resource issues facing diverse communities today. These issue may be the full or partial result of climate change, or may be unrelated to climate change. In every case, dealing with "the future" includes addressing BOTH these current issues as well as such additional problems as may arise from climate change. My concern is that in the rush to address "climate change" we understate or even forget some of these already existing problems. I hope this clarifies. Thanks for your comments. Chris

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