MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we're going to turn our attention to something we cannot live without but too often take for granted. I'm talking about water. That's one reason I head to Fort Collins, Colo. this week for the latest in a series of NPR events focused on important issues that we call our Going There series. Our event in Fort Collins is called The Future of Water.
But first, we want to dig into a recent report by the World Bank that addresses climate change, water and economic growth. According to the report, the impact of climate change will be felt mainly through water. Water scarcity, already a problem, could dramatically slow down world economic growth, push more people to migrate and spark even more global conflict.
But not all hope is lost. The report also says that potentially affected countries can mitigate the effects of water scarcity by taking action now to use water more efficiently. We wanted to talk more about this, so we called the lead author, World Bank lead environmental economist Richard Damania. And we reached him in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Mr. Damania, thank you so much for speaking with us.
RICHARD DAMANIA: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: What does this report pull together? What does it accomplish that previous ones have not, in your view?
DAMANIA: I think there are two important things that this report highlights. The first is that as you suggested earlier - that the major impacts of climate change are felt through water, things like more intense rainfall, droughts, cyclones. Indeed, I'm here in Colombo and it's pouring with rain. And there's a threat of floods, which are unseasonal and unexpected.
And that's one of the things that the report highlights. It also highlights that if you happen to have in some senses the misfortune of living in an area that's dry, most likely you're going to get even drier. Another important point - we all know that we need water to live, but seldom do we recognize that the economy also needs water.
MARTIN: The report says that water scarcity exacerbated by climate change could cost some regions up to 6 percent of GDP. How did you arrive at that figure?
DAMANIA: We combined a model of climate change with a hydrological cycle, and then we fed through what would be the likely consequences of climate change - shrinking, shriveling supplies of water - on economic growth. If you don't have the water and your business needs water, of course this is going to increase your costs. Costs go up, therefore growth tends to be affected by it. So it's quite logical.
MARTIN: It is quite logical. I mean, in a way it seems as though it's an issue that's hiding in plain sight.
DAMANIA: I think that's partly because we tend to take water for granted. We assume that it's so abundant. And we really are set for a somewhat different world to what we've been experiencing in the past.
MARTIN: Now the report does call for three sort of overarching policy priorities to help lead countries to what you call climate-resilient economies. What would such a framework look like? How would such a thing occur?
DAMANIA: So what the report tries to emphasize is that if you have a shortage of water, there's really only three things that you can do. You can try to increase the supply of water, but that's dreadfully expensive. Or you could go to really expensive solutions like desalination or water reuse. But a lot more effort needs to be spent on managing demand. Today, in a lot of countries that are water scarce, more water is lost through leaking pipes than is actually delivered to people in their faucets.
We also observe that in a lot of countries that are awfully dry, we provide them with, say, irrigation and they tend to grow rice and water-thirsty crops where really - in deserts and arid regions where one shouldn't be growing those water-thirsty crops. So these are the kinds of shifts that need to actually happen. But they are long-term shifts, and we need to start preparing and making them.
MARTIN: That was World Bank environmental economist Richard Damania speaking to us about his new report addressing water scarcity. It's called "High And Dry: Climate Change, Water And The Economy." And we reached Richard Damania in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Mr. Damania, thank you so much for speaking with us.
DAMANIA: Thank you, Michel. It was a pleasure.
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