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Planet Earth

13. Australia Faces a Waterless Future

By Megan Mansell WilliamsDecember 18, 2007 6:00 AM

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Throughout 2007 in Australia, the evening news announced the levels of the nation’s reservoirs, billboards posted water consumption statistics, and the public fretted over reports of a strained economy. What is said to be the country’s worst drought in a millennium continues for a seventh year, driving drinking-water reserves to record lows across the country. Environmental experts warn that Australia’s plight should be making the whole world thirsty: As global warming continues, many nations around the world may have to adapt to less water.

Last April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that water shortages will intensify in Australia, as well as across Africa, China and other areas of Asia, parts of Europe, and the United States. Lack of water may affect 3.2 billion people by 2100.

In response, desalination plants for Australia’s major cities are either under construction or planned. Conservation incentives and industrial water recycling programs are also helping reduce demand.

“Australia is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the impact of climate change on water resources,” says Ross Young, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia. “Many people thought there would be adequate time to adapt to less water. The lesson from Australia is that the shift has been very dramatic and has occurred in a very short period.

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