California and the American West are not the only places suffering from drought—in fact, there are several places in the world right now where overtaxed aquifers, severe pollution, and lack of rainfall are creating extreme water insecurity for residents. In some places, water is so scarce that municipal supplies are being rationed or shut off completely.
Many of the droughts currently happening are thanks to El Niño—unusually warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. But even when the weather patterns eventually change, they will not be able to reverse decades of abuse and neglect of local water systems. A new NASA study released last week revealed that even some areas flush with precipitation are still running low on water reserves underground. Here’s a look at how five places are currently coping with drought—which might give some insight into what California will have to grapple with in its water future.
Workers closing a valve to shut down the water supply to part of metropolitan Puerto Rico as part of rationing. AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo
The Caribbean is probably not the first place you’d think of when it comes to water scarcity, but a lack of rain plus poor infrastructure management—plus a severe economic crisis—has crippled the island’s freshwater reserves. It’s so bad that citizens are now subject to water rationing, which started in May: Some residents have their water cut off every three days for 48 hours at a time. Hefty fines are imposed upon water wasters and the National Guard has distributed purification systems to help those in rural areas. Today it was announced that rationing will be extended, with about 350,000 residents being hit with water restrictions. Water is also being shipped in to the island.
54 percent of India is experiencing high or extremely high water stress, according to the WRI’s India Water Tool
The searing, deadly temperatures cities like Mumbai saw earlier this spring are only making matters worse for the country, which is facing one of the biggest groundwater crises on the planet. A recent study with data collected by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites revealed that Northern India is home to the most quickly depleting aquifers on Earth. According to the World Resources Institute, it’s large-scale irrigation practices which are to blame, with farmers extracting so much water for agricultural purposes that the aquifers could collapse, ruining the supply of potable water forever. With so much of the population already without access to clean water due to widespread pollution, the loss of groundwater sources could be catastrophic.
People carry plastic bottles to fill up with water at a community kiosk after their water was shut off. AP Photo/Andre Penner
Municipal water shut-offs have also been a reality for the residents of this Brazilian city, which is one of the densest and most populous cities in the world. The worst drought in 80 years has been exacerbated by deforestation in the Amazon basin but that’s only one part of the problem here: The water system is polluted and has horrendously leaky pipes (and, of course, many are blaming the city’s failures on the exorbitant costs of last year’s World Cup). The region’s water system was nearly depleted earlier this spring and officials had to turn to emergency reserves, warning residents they might “need to flee.” Now the city’s electrical grid could also be compromised as much of the city’s power relies on hydroelectric dams which don’t have high enough flow to power them.
Images via NASA’s Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) onboard its Terra satellite
North Korea is coping with a 100-year drought that has decimated one main source of food production: It’s reporting that one-third of its rice paddies have dried up. Malnourishment is already widespread in the country and people have died due to government-controlled food rationing; it’s estimated that 2 to 3 million people in North Korea were killed in the last famine. Although some are claiming that North Korea exaggerates these claims to get humanitarian aid—its ally Iran has already offered to help—NASA captured these Landsat 7 images of North Korea from June 29, 2002 (left) and June 26, 2015. Red is vegetation, and as you can see, there’s a whole lot less of it now. Things in North Korea are bad enough. Now this?
Top image: People praying for more rain in the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The sign at the center of the frame reads in Portuguese; “Water. Use conscientiously.” AP Photo/Nelson Antoine