A group of U.S. researchers found that 73 percent of world’s small islands may soon lack freshwater as supplies are dwindling because of climate change. Scientists estimate that the problem may affect 16 million people on those islands.
The research team found that the Cocos Islands in Australia and Cook Islands in New Zealand are among the small islands set to become arid by the middle of the century. Researchers sifted through data on 80 islands and found that nearly three-quarters are at a high risk of having no or little access to freshwater.
Researchers at Boulder Colorado University based their findings on measurements of evaporation through plant leaves and surfaces on the islands. Kristopher Karnauskas, lead author of the study, explained that while half of islands including all in the deep tropics are expected to be showered by more rainfall, highest levels of evaporation on the rest of the sampled islands may dry them out by 2050.
The study was recently published in Nature Climate Change.
Researchers also found that the changes may reshape the vegetation on the islands, while islander will find it harder to produce fresh food locally due to natural freshwater shortage.
“It’s going to be harder to grow stuff because there’s not going to be enough water,”
The team predicts that small islands will also experience reduced tree cover as they get drier.
Furthermore, 16 million islanders should expect cost of water to skyrocket as they will need more imports or more expensive desalination systems. Moreover, researchers recommend large investments in systems to capture and store rainfall on the islands and plants to recycle waste water.
Over the next decades, researchers expect poorer water quality and more algal blooms around the islands. One resident on Christmas Island noted that the island, which is on the list with islands at risk of drying out, is already facing a water crisis triggered by contamination of freshwater due to the waste in the local landfill.
Authorities urged islanders not to dispose toxic waste in the landfill or there may be fines. But environmentalists claim that residents will get rid of their old tires and batteries in the jungle where nobody can charge them.
According to Boulder team, 9 million islanders will see their homes get 20 percent drier by 2090, while 6 million will be have to deal with up to 60 percent less freshwater.
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