According to a recent report published by the United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), certain regions within India's Indo-Gangetic basin have already crossed the critical threshold of groundwater depletion. It further projected that the entire northwestern area is expected to face severely limited groundwater resources by the year 2025.
The United Nations University or the UNU is the academic arm of the United Nations which functions as a global think tank.
The report by UNU, titled, "Interconnected Disaster Risks Report 2023", also suggests that significant transformations are on the horizon unless we change the way we interact with our environment. Accordingly, the report warns of six risk tipping points ahead of us, one of it being groundwater depletion.
How much groundwater is left?
Groundwater, a crucial source of fresh water, is stored in underground reservoirs known as aquifers. These aquifers provide drinking water to more than 2 billion people, with approximately 70 percent allocated for agricultural purposes. Unfortunately, 21 out of the world's 37 primary aquifers are experiencing depletion at a rate surpassing their natural replenishment.
According to the report, there are dire forecasts of severely limited groundwater availability in the entire northwestern region of India by 2025. The region acts as the primary food source for the nation's expanding 1.4 billion population, where Punjab and Haryana contribute 50 percent of the country's rice production and 85 percent of its wheat reserves. Nevertheless, approximately 78 percent of wells in Punjab are categorised as overexploited and are moving towards the brink of depletion.
The report advocated for the need of drastic changes in our global agricultural system which are mindful of the limits of groundwater systems and our ability to access this water. "We can no longer consider groundwater as a boundless source of easily-accessible freshwater," the report read.
Citing the example of Saudi Arabia, the report highlighted how some countries have already used up their share of groundwater and accordingly had to curtail its agricultural production.
In the mid-1990s, farmers were extracting approximately 19 trillion liters of water annually, leading Saudi Arabia to become the sixth-largest global wheat exporter. This extensive over-pumping is believed to have diminished over 80 percent of the aquifer, resulting in the Saudi government's declaration that the 2016 wheat harvest would be its final one.
What are the other risks for the planet?
According to the UNU report, the other risks for which we should be concerned about include-
According to the report, the actual threat of extinction could be considerably higher than we think, particularly because numerous species have strong, distinctive connections with one another, forming intricate interdependencies.
Therefore, the imminent threat of extinction to nearly 1 million plant and animal species, is related to the potential extinction of numerous others. The gopher tortoise, for instance, a species at risk, known for creating burrows that serve as habitats for over 350 different species. These burrows offer crucial functions such as breeding, feeding, protection from predators, and temperature regulation.
Mountain glaciers melting
Glacier retreat occurs when the ice that was formed long ago melts more rapidly than new snow can accumulate. Unfortunately, due to global warming, glaciers worldwide are now melting at twice the rate observed over the previous two decades.
According to the report, from 2000 to 2019, glaciers lost approximately 267 gigatons of ice annually. It added that even if we can limit global warming to 1.5°C, projections suggest that we may lose about 50% of glaciers (excluding Greenland and Antarctica) by 2100.
Space debris refers to the space junk which include old satellites, spent rocket stages, fragments from previous collisions, and various other pieces of equipment that are no longer operational. The UNU report projects that the world would be launching over 1,00,000 new spacecraft by 2030, which will increase the amount of debris and subsequent collisions.
Multiple collisions will lead to more debris, setting off a dangerous chain reaction. This, as the report says, may render our orbit too cluttered and unsafe for space activities, potentially destroying existing infrastructure and making future space endeavors impossible.
As per the report, extreme heat has already caused on an average of 5,00,000 excess deaths annually in the last two decades, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable. At present, approximately 30% of the world's population faces life-threatening climate conditions for a minimum of 20 days each year, and this percentage may surge to exceed 70% by the year 2100.
The escalating frequency and intensity of extreme weather events worldwide have driven up the expenses associated with the destruction they cause. When insurance options become inaccessible due to specific risks, unavailable in certain regions, or unaffordable for homeowners, these areas are labeled as "uninsurable".
In Australia, for instance, an estimated 5,20,940 homes are anticipated to fall into the uninsurable category by 2030, primarily due to the rising threat of flooding, the report reads.
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