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More people, less water? Scientists see risks on upper Nile

Wed, 28th Aug 2019 17:50

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, Aug 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rapidpopulation growth, combined with a hike in hot and dry years, islikely to dramatically increase the number of people sufferingwater scarcity on the upper River Nile, climate changescientists said on Wednesday.

By 2030, demand for Nile water will exceed supply, and by2080, almost two-thirds of people living in the upper Nile basincould face water shortages in particularly hot and dry years,researchers from U.S.-based Dartmouth University predicted.

That could affect close to 250 million in the upper basin by2080, researchers said.

A shortfall looms despite overall rainfall to the regiongrowing as a result of global warming, they said in a studypublished in the journal Earth's Future.

"The Nile basin is one of several fast-growing,predominately agricultural regions that is really on the brinkof severe water scarcity," said the lead author, Ethan Coffel.

"Climate change, coupled with population growth, will makeit much harder to provide food and water for everyone in theseareas. These environmental stresses could easily contribute tomigration and even conflict," he said.

The study looked at existing water access, and likelychanges, in western Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda, countriesalong the upper reaches of the Nile River.

In that area, population is expected to nearly double by2080, from a current 200 million, as sub-Saharan Africa overallsees the highest rates of population growth in the world.

At the same time, the frequency of hot and dry years isexpected to grow as much as three-fold in the upper Nile basin,even if global warming is held to an agreed international goalof 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F), the study noted.

Global emissions are currently on a path to push the world'saverage temperature 3 or more degrees Celsius abovepre-industrial levels, elevating the risk, scientists say.

The Dartmouth study said that as population rises in theupper Nile basin, a region already on the brink of waterscarcity would likely tip into it within the next decade or two.

"Population is the major driving factor in terms of waterscarcity," Coffel, a post-graduate computer modeller and climatescientist, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said one of the biggest surprises from the research was"the magnitude of the water scarcity challenge" in the region.

That is particularly worrisome given poor yields of itsmajor crops - such as maize, millet, barley and wheat - alreadycoincide almost precisely with hot and dry years, he said.

Crop yields have risen dramatically in the past two decades,but ever more climate extremes put that at risk, Coffel said.

Worsening water scarcity is also likely to boost tensionsover controversial projects such as Ethiopia's hydropower dam -Africa's biggest - under construction on a branch of the Nile,he said.

Nor is the threat contained locally, the scientist said.

"There are lots of regions facing similar problems due togreater water scarcity and population growth," he said.(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering ; editing byLyndsay Griffiths: (Please credit the Thomson ReutersFoundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covershumanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights,trafficking and property rights. Visit

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