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Following Africa's Water: A Threat of Scarcity

Jul 23, 2014 07:27 PM EDT

Irrigation systems are essential for maintaining food production in Africa. However, compared to the developed worlds, African farmers have barely any water access. Now researchers are warning that some deprived parts of the continent are due for even more water scarcity in the wake of climate change.

As first described by Nature World News last month, churning atmospheric winds are utterly reforming what is "normal" weather for the globe, and are reallocating some very important patterns for extreme weather, such as deluges and droughts.

Africa, being the large continent that it is, clearly won't be affected by altered weather patterns in the same way across all its countries. Instead, experts expect to see - and are already seeing - increased precipitation in some regions, while other are due to face worsening dry-spells.

In-fact, after researchers analyzed water availability trends in African maize-growing regions between 1979 and 2010, they found that overall water availability has actually increased. This was largely thanks to a combination of increased rainfall and reduced evaporation rates in many parts of the continent.

However, the same study also revealed that across sub-Saharan Africa, only about four percent of cultivated land is irrigated. The global average, for comparison, is 18 percent. Worse, the same change in weather patterns that is helping out some of the continent is causing East Africa to experience a decrease in natural water availability. With very little irrigation from the start, these regions are now in big trouble.

"Some places, like parts of Tanzania, got a double whammy that looks like a declining trend in rainfall as well as an increasing evaporative demand during the more sensitive middle part of the growing season," study lead Lyndon Estes explained in a recent release.

According to Estes, this study only examined about 34 percent of all African maize-growing areas. Even so, these early findings, while largely positive, do indicate that some regions are a significant risk or water scarcity in the future. Proactive measures of course, are recommended, but may not be possible without the help of more developed countries.

In another recent water scarcity report, Nature World News detailed how China is attempting to combat its own scarcity problems by siphoning water from healthier regions to those lacking accesses. However, inter-provincial trade is hampering these efforts.

A study detailing the African findings was published in Environmental Research Letters on July 11.

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