Too little water supply in an increasingly warming world can spur dire economic consequences, trigger sudden migration and spark conflict around the globe, a new report by the World Bank warns.

High And Dry

The new report examines the long-term effects of diminishing water supply on the world, citing effects on food, urban, energy and environmental systems.

As cities expand, incomes rise and populations continue to grow, and water supply becomes more erratic and uncertain, researchers write.

Unfortunately, unless action is taken immediately, water will become scarce in places where it is currently abundant, including East Asia and Central Africa.

At the same time, scarcity will worsen in places already with short supply, including the Middle East and the Sahel, the report says.

Impact On The Economy

All of these are fairly obvious consequences of global warming. However, the World Bank report treads new ground in assessing the economic impacts of water shortage.

In fact, experts say water scarcity can cause areas to lose as much as 6 percent of their gross domestic product because of water-related losses in health, agriculture, property and income.

What's more, water insecurity can drive migration and inflame latent conflicts. Spikes in food prices that are caused by water shortage, as well as episodes of drought and floods, can generate waves of violence within countries.

How Countries Can Compensate

The World Bank report says there are ways to mitigate the water-related issues.

The first requires better policy planning and incentives, involving things like using water prices and permits wisely to make sure that water is used for "higher-value" purposes.

Paradoxically, in societies where water is currently considered free, the poor end up paying more for it.

The report says that in extremely dry regions, far-reaching policies are required to prevent inefficient water use.

Second, researchers advise that countries expand the availability and supply of water through more dams, water recycling and perhaps even desalination. This process removes salt and other minerals from water.

Lastly, the report suggests "water-proofing" vulnerable areas from economic shock. This involves strengthening crop insurance for farmers, building walls and levees to protect cities from flood, and improving water stewardship.

 "Stronger policies and reforms are needed to cope with deepening climate stresses," the report concludes.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture | Flickr

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