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Water Scarcity Could Push Conflict, Migration by 2050

The World Banks says water insecurity, could force migration, spark conflict and and be a significant financial drag on regional governments.

The potential impact of climate change has never been just about rising temperatures.

New research says that in the next 35 years, water insecurity -- made worse by climate change -- could force migration, spark conflict and and be a significant financial drag on regional governments.

The warning comes in a new report from the World Bank titled "High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy."

"Water scarcity is a major threat to economic growth and stability around the world," according to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, "and climate change is making the problem worse."

Less Water, More Trouble

As water becomes more scarce, areas where drought is not yet an issue, like Central Africa and East Asia, are likely to see a drop in the resource. At the same time, conditions in areas already feeling the pinch, like the Middle East and the African Sahel, will get much worse.

The report predicts that lack of access to water will impact agriculture, health and incomes, to the tune of 6 percent of a region's gross domestic product.

"Economic growth is a surprisingly thirsty business," the report concludes in its executive summary. "Water is a vital factor of production, so diminishing water supplies can translate into slower growth, that clouds economic prospects."

The World Bank outlines a dangerous cycle where "episodes of droughts and floods have generated waves of migration and statistical spikes in violence within countries. In a globalized and connected world, such problems are impossible to quarantine."

Path to Prosperity

But a major element of the new report highlights how enlightened water management policies can not only mitigate the impact of climate change, but allow some regions to thrive in a drier, more challenging climate.

Among the report's recommendations are to establish what it calls an "expanded water nexus," that would manage water availability on a regional level that crosses borders.

Other recommendations include expanding storage infrastructure, like dams and water tanks, as well as aggressive water recycling programs and smart agriculture that can significantly lower the water needed to grow abundant crops.

These recommendations are challenging, the World Bank says, but not particularly costly. In some cases, implementing water conservation strategies could be an economic boom for some of the countries most likely to be affected.

"The future will be thirsty and uncertain," the World Bank says, but the real risk, it says, is doing nothing.

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    Kevin Enochs

    Kevin Enochs is an award-winning content creator who has been explaining the intricacies of the natural world to television and online audiences for over 20 years.

    He perfected his craft working for CNN and the National Geographic Channel before heading to the Voice of America in 2012.