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Where Has All the Water Gone?

We live on a parched planet, where farmers till arid pastureland and policymakers fret over empty reservoirs, dry rivers, and thirsty cities. But this only scratches the surface of a much deeper problem: subterranean aquifers, which amount to the world’s reserve water tank, are also running dry.

MANILA – We live on a parched planet. Farmers till arid pastureland, and policymakers fret over empty reservoirs, dry rivers, and thirsty cities. And that only scratches the surface – literally – of the world’s water problem. Subterranean aquifers, which amount to the world’s reserve water tank, are also running dry. If this continues, the consequences could be dire, especially for water-stressed and fast-growing Asia.

Subterranean aquifers are repositories of water located deep underground, in permeable rock, soil, or sand. And they contain about 100 times the amount of water found on the earth’s surface, in streams, lakes, rivers, and wetlands. If you’re in central Africa, South America, or some parts of Europe, you’re probably standing just a few hundred feet above one.

Surface water resources, such as desalinated seawater or recycled wastewater, will not close the global gap – predicted to reach 40% by 2030 – between water supply and demand. So subterranean aquifers are increasingly being exploited for agriculture, power generation, and daily use in fast-growing cities (urban Asia is growing at a rate of 120,000 people per day).

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