Water Problems in Asia

Are ‘Water Wars’ Coming to Asia?

Are ‘Water Wars’ Coming to Asia?

Climate change-induced water loss in the Tibetan Plateau further challenges water security from Central to Southeast Asia.


September 17, 2022

A recently published study by a team of scientists from the University of Texas in Austin, Penn State, and Tsinghua University in Nature climate change journal found that terrestrial water storage (TWS) in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China is expected to sustain significant net declines by 2060. The study analyzed seven river basin systems – the Amu Darya, Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Salween-Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow river basins – and found that the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, also known as Asia’s “water tower” or “the roof of the world,” is threatened by climate change-induced water loss.

As the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau’s glacier melt and mountain springs provide a significant supply of water flowing out of China to many downstream countries in Asia, this study reinforces that climate change effects are exacerbating water insecurity in Asia. While the water challenges in Asia are due in part to poor water management, they are made worse by other pressures. These include rapid population growth, urbanization, growing water demands, upstream-downstream disputes, and geopolitical tensions over water resources. To avoid further water insecurity concerns and fears of a “water war” or water crisis, governments in Asia should rethink their approach to water security by improving their management of water resources.

Climate Change

In recent decades, climate change has caused a severe depletion in TWS (surface and subsurface water), which is essential in determining water availability. Water storage is affected by climate change impacts (such as climate change-induced extreme weather events) and is linked to global sea-level rise.

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