Water Scarcity

WATER SCARCITY is an enormous challenge in many parts of the world, with many of the world’s most important aquifers being drained much faster than they can be replenished. These trends in water availability will have effects on food production systems, water-borne illness patterns, and other water-related diseases. For example, the aquifer under the North China Plain, where half of China's wheat is grown, is falling at up to three meters/year, and it is estimated that each year 300 million Indians and Chinese are being fed on fossil water that is not being replenished. Demographic changes are driving sharp increases in global water demand at a time when climate change promises to increase water scarcity in a variety of ways, including more extreme forms of precipitation, dry areas becoming drier, earlier spring runoff from winter snow pack, loss of glacial contributions to dry-season flow, sea level rise and inundation of coastal aquifers with salt water, and hotter temperatures leading to increased evapotranspiration.

These complex changes in quantity, quality, and timing of water availability, overlaid on significant existing water scarcity and increasing demand, are likely to impact food production, water-borne disease exposure, and water-related diseases. Changes in land use (e.g., deforestation) also impact water quality and quantity and exposure to water-borne disease in ways that are inadequately understood. Research to better characterize these challenges and identify approaches to reducing vulnerability is urgently needed.

Learning Objectives
L1: Relate and analyze the linkages between drivers of water scarcity and health implications.
L2: Describe how water availability and quality affect economic opportunities and human well-being, and how human activity affects water resources.
L3: Understand the natural systems and physical properties of water that contribute to its fundamental role in driving Earth systems.
L4: Explore how the availability of and demand for water resources is expected to change over the next 50 years and what this means for health.
Teaching Resources
Health Impact Assessment of Global Environmental Change
This undergraduate level course will provide students with tools to identify and address real-world global environmental and urban health issues. In addition to reading and discussing subject content to assist in understanding of the issues, students will learn skills to optimize the likelihood of affecting policy change through: 1) the Health Impact Assessment framework; 2) an introduction to environmental health modeling and spatial analysis; and 3) science communication skills. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Spring 2017.
→ Syllabus
→ Weekly course topics and schedule

Ecosystem Approaches to Health Teaching Manual
A teaching manual with sample modules and associated activities for teaching about health and environmental change produced by COPEH-Canada.
→ Español 
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→ English 
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Water, Health, and Sustainable Development
This Harvard University Extension School course provides an overview of environmental assessment to design, evaluate and replicate sustainable projects and programs in the water sector. The course develops the tools to assess natural resources protection, improvements in population health, positive social impacts and poverty reduction, and economic appraisal that include sustainability measures at least cost.
→ Syllabus

Drought and War Heighten Threat of Not Just 1 Famine, but 4
(L2, L3, L4) In Somalia and other African countries suffering from drought and famines, lack of clean water and proper hygiene are behind massive outbreaks of communicable diseases in displaced-persons camps. Water sources that dry up in droughts cause an interlocking cycle of death more and more arrive at camps; clean water is much more important for food than survival.
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The Water Project Collection
(L1, L2, L3, L4) This site provides an easy-to-navigate collection of background articles and resources to explore water scarcity and the health impacts in a range of regions (mini-case studies).
→ Browse the site

Our Water, Our Future
(L1, L2) This mini-documentary showcases the story of the unlikely activists in Cascade Locks, Oregon and their advice for communities facing water grabs around the world.
→ Watch the video

What It's Like to Live in the World's Most Polluted City
(L1, L2, L3) Delhi, the Indian territory, is the most polluted area in the world. National Geographic photographs by Matthieu Raley show New Delhi residents' interactions with pollution accompanied by an article about the lack of proper infrastructure to solve air pollution, water pollution, waste management, and environmental degradation issues.
→ See the photos

Planetary Health Alliance

The Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 120 dedicated universities, NGOs, government entities, research institutes, and other partners around the world committed to advancing planetary health.
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