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Drought hit large portion of the globe in 2021, state of water report says

A person sits by a water reservoir with low water levels and dried grass at Walthamstow Wetlands in London in August. File Photo By Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE
A person sits by a water reservoir with low water levels and dried grass at Walthamstow Wetlands in London in August. File Photo By Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE

Nov. 29 (UPI) -- More than 3.6 million people do not have access to an adequate water supply, and large areas of the world are only getting dryer, according to a report from the World Meteorological Organization.

The WMO State of Global Water Resources report shares a grim outlook of the Earth's water supply with many places under drier than normal conditions in 2021. It provides a look at river flow, flooding events and droughts around the world.

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The report said precipitation patterns were impacted by climate change and a La Niña event.

"The impacts of climate change are often felt through water -- more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers -- with cascading effects on economies, ecosystems and all aspects of our daily lives," WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas said.

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"And yet, there is insufficient understanding of changes in the distribution, quantity, and quality of freshwater resources."

The area of the Earth with below-average streamflow was twice as large as the above-average area when compared to the 30-year average.

Particularly dry regions included Rio de la Plata in South America and North America's Colorado, Missouri and Mississippi river basins. Rio de la Plata has had a drought since 2019.

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Terrestrial water storage, or water naturally stored in canopies, snow, ice, bodies of water and water below the surface, was below average compared to the period between 2002-2020.

The western United States, central South America, Patagonia, North Africa and Madagascar, Central Asia and the Middle East, Pakistan and North India had low water storage.

"Overall, the negative trends are stronger than the positive ones," the report said.

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Water resources also have an effect on worldwide food supply, particularly the cryosphere. This includes glaciers, mountains and permafrost which make up the world's largest natural water reservoir. The WMO plans to assess the cryosphere in future reports.

UN-Water reported 74% of all natural disasters were water-related.

On Nov. 14, WMO introduced the new Action for Water Adaptation and Resilience initiative in U.N. Climate Change negotiations to stress the significance of water as a "key climate change problem and a potential solution." The initiative was drafted at COP27 in Egypt.

The initiative outlines actions to decrease water loss, improve water supply and create sustainability plans.

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