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Why Global Water Shortages Pose Threat of Terror and War

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On 17 January, scientists downloaded fresh data from a pair of Nasa satellites and distributed the findings among the small group of researchers who track the world's water reserves. At the University of California, Irvine, hydrologist James Famiglietti looked over the data from the gravity-sensing Grace satellites with a rising sense of dread.

The data, released last week, showed California on the verge of an epic drought, with its backup systems of groundwater reserves so run down that the losses could be picked up by satellites orbiting 400km above the Earth's surface.

"It was definitely an 'oh my gosh moment'," Famiglietti said. "The groundwater is our strategic reserve. It's our backup, and so where do you go when the backup is gone?"

That same day, the state governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought emergency and appealed to Californians to cut their water use by 20%. "Every day this drought goes on we are going to have to tighten the screws on what people are doing," he said.

Seventeen rural communities are in danger of running out of water within 60 days and that number is expected to rise, after the main municipal water distribution system announced it did not have enough supplies and would have to turn off the taps to local agencies.  

There are other shock moments ahead - and not just for California - in a world where water is increasingly in short supply because of growing demands from agriculture, an expanding population, energy production and climate change.


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