• Shiana Irlbeck

Global Droughts Threaten Crucial Water Sources

Lack of rainfall and consistently high temperatures are sweeping across the world, depleting water sources from the United States' Lake Mead to Europe’s Danube. The combination has caused global droughts that are threatening essential water sources while also exacerbating food and energy supplies.


Water levels are so low in some parts of the world that artifacts are beginning to appear above the subsiding water. These treasures, while beautiful discoveries, should pose as a warning sign. With the lack of rain, dangerous heat waves, and record low water levels, it is more noticeable than ever that a changing climate is upon us.


Dinosaur tracks hidden under Paluxy River exposed after the recent drought in Texas.
Dinosaur tracks hidden under Paluxy River exposed after the recent drought in Texas. (Paul Baker/Friends of Dinosaur Valley)

Uncovered History


While experiencing drought is a very harmful situation, many are left in awe of the treasures emerging from the low water levels. For history fans, these relics are a fascinating way to shed light on the past. Artifacts ranging from boats, statues, and dinosaur tracks are being discovered as bodies of water diminish.


Millions of Years Old Dinosaur Tracks


Dinosaur State Park, located in Texas, has ironically uncovered footprints that date back over 113 million years. These prints would usually be covered up by water and sediment; however, summer droughts have left the US state park’s water sources quite scarce. It is said that in North America, the tracks at this location are among the longest made by a single dinosaur, adding to their uniqueness.


Emerging Chinese Island


Regional droughts in China have led to the discovery of three ancient Buddhist statues, as a formerly submerged island looms from under the shallowing water. The carvings were discovered in the Yangtze river, near Chongqing. Believed to be around 600 years old, the trio appears to have been built during the dynasties of Ming and Qing. Experts claim the river is about 45% lower than its typical height.


Inauspicious “Hunger Stones”


Appearing on Elbe river banks in Europe, these stones are among the most frightening discoveries as water levels shrink. As a warning to future generations, “hunger stones” were carved during previous droughts to signal that tough times lie ahead if they are seen above water. Stones dating back to the 15th century were inscribed with the words “if you see me, cry” in 1616.


German World War II Ships


Sunken remnants of World War II fleet ships were recently found in the Danube, Europe’s second longest river. Dozens were found and are still loaded with explosives. Dating back to 1944, the ships were part of Nazi Germany’s Black Sea Fleet and sunk trying to escape the Soviet army during the war. The water level has drastically fallen in the Danube, shrinking to one of its lowest levels in decades. It is predicted that many more ships will emerge as the droughts persist.


Who is Affected?


European Countries


Experiencing weeks of drought and dangerous heat waves, Europe is taking one of the biggest hits from the climate situation. In what is likely the most severe drought in over 500 years, two-thirds of European land is under a drought warning.


A report from the Global Drought Observatory warns that the climate issue will last for several months in some regions, cause wildfires, and impact crop yields. The dry soil has caused crops to deteriorate, with crop production forecasts down drastically compared to the last five years, impacting the global food scale.


In addition to the obvious impacts on boats and shipments, electricity generation is also being put under pressure from the receding rivers. Europe relies heavily on hydropower as a source of energy, but the lack of water has reduced the capability of facilities to produce electricity.


The conditions are expected to extend into November this year along the European Mediterranean.


The Global Drought Observatory report warns that “...the situation is worsening in countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Romania, Hungary, northern Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, Ireland, and the UK,” according to bbc.com.


United States


As stated by the government’s National Integrated Drought Information System, over 43% of the United States was in drought during July. This has drastically affected crop production and the economy of the US.


Approximately £249 million has been lost as a result of the drought situation and crop failures. Around 229 million acres of crops and roughly 130 million people have been affected by the droughts.


African Countries


Among all continents, Africa suffers the most from drought, according to the United Nations. The Food and Agriculture Organization recently announced that in Somalia, Ethiopia, and a chunk of Kenya, more than 18 million people face severe hunger. This situation is due to the grievous drought that has ravaged the Horn of Africa, making it the worst scarcity in over 40 years.


Asia


Due to a vicious combination of drought and record-breaking heat waves, the Yangtze river has been rapidly losing water. This body of water is a critical part of the Chinese economy as Asia’s largest river.


Factory and food production, transportation, and power supplies have been struck by the extreme conditions, leading to nearly 900 million people stretching from roughly 17 provinces becoming impacted by the Yangtze River Basin’s water scarcity.


What Needs to Change?


Undoubtedly, our relationship with food and the land needs to change. In order to reverse systemic issues, we need to alternately direct our attention towards the solution instead of continuing harmful habits.


Constructing more practical ecological systems is key to improving land quality. It is imperative that we build and rebuild landscapes more functionally and sustainably, mimicking natural terrain whenever possible. Land restoration would drastically help reverse the loss of soil fertility and degraded water cycles; however, this idea calls for urgent investment.


Drought in Numbers 2022 recently reported that: “Sustainable and efficient agricultural management techniques are needed to grow more food on less land with less water, and humans must change their relationships with food, fodder, and fiber…” according to weforum.org.


Proven Successful Changes


In Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia, drip irrigation techniques have been instituted, which has dramatically helped produce higher crop yields and control water usage.


Niger farmers recently created agroforestry techniques on five million hectares of their land, which resulted in a sustainable reduction of drought risks. Due to interventions like changing tree management and tenure, the Sahel has seen over seven million hectares of vegetation cover increase over the last 25 years.


Creating new systems to enhance sustainable agriculture is very plausible through drip irrigation and developing new agroforestry techniques, like in Vietnam and Niger. These examples are proof of successful and crucial changes.



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Shiana Irlbeck is a content writer for the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability. She also holds a BS in Psychology from Iowa State University.


Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth.