Major Rivers Running Dry River Amu Darya Situation The Amu Darya is one of the two rivers that feed into the Aral Sea. Soaring demands on this river, largely to support irrigated agriculture, sometimes drain it dry before it reaches the sea. This, in combination with a reduced flow of the Syr Darya—the other river feeding into the sea—helps explain why the Aral Sea has shrunk by roughly 75 percent over the last 40 years and has split into two sections. All the water in the Colorado, the major river in southwestern United States, is allocated. As a result, this river, fed by the rainfall and snowmelt from the mountains of Colorado, now rarely makes it to the Gulf of California. This river, which flows from the northern part of China’s Shanxi province and empties into the Yellow river at the province’s southern end, has essentially disappeared as water withdrawals upstream in the watershed have lowered the water table, drying up springs that once fed the river. The Gangetic basin is home to some 450 million people. Flowing through Bangladesh en route to the Bay of Bengal, the Ganges has little water left when it reaches the bay. The Indus, originating in the Himalayas and flowing southwest to the Arabian Sea, feeds Pakistan’s irrigated agriculture. It now barely reaches the ocean during much of the year. Pakistan, with a population of 161 million projected to reach 305 million by 2050, is facing trouble. In Egypt, a country where it rarely ever rains, the Nile is vitally important. Already drastically reduced by the time it reaches the Mediterranean, it may go dry further upstream in the decades ahead if the populations of Sudan and Ethiopia double by 2050, as projected. The cradle of Chinese civilization, the Yellow River has frequently run dry before reaching the sea over the past three decades. In 1997, the lower reaches saw no flow for 226 days. While better management practices have enabled the river to reach its mouth year round during the past several years, flow levels are still extremely low during the dry season. Colorado Fen Ganges Indus Nile Yellow From ―Stabilizing Water Tables,‖ Chapter 6 in Lester R. Brown, Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), pp. 106-107. Updated by Elizabeth Mygatt, Earth Policy Institute, July 2006. Sources: Amu Darya from FAO, Review of World Water Resources by Country (Rome: 2003), pp. 61-62, from International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD), The Dams Newsletter, no. 2 (May 2004), pp. 2-3, and from ―Aral Sea," LakeNet, World Lakes Database , at www.worldlakes.org/lakedetails.asp?lakeid=9219, viewed 19 July 2006; Colorado from Brent Langellier, ―Accidental Oasis,‖ Tucson Citizen , 20 June 2006, and from America’s Roof, ―Headwaters of Rivers in the United States,‖ factsheet, www.americasroof.com/river.shtml, viewed 19 July 2006; Fen from Lester R. Brown and Brian Halweil, ―China’s Water Shortages Could Shake World Food Security,‖ World Watch , July/August 1998, p. 11, from Jehangir S. Pocha, ―Where Coal is King, Everything Else Is Sacrificed,‖ San Francisco Chronicle, 7 July 2005, and from Erling Hoh, ―Red Alert for Yellow River; Overuse, Toxics Destroying China’s Link to Ancient Civilization,‖ San Francisco Chronicle , 4 March 2002; Ganges from ―Ganga,‖ case study in Managing Rivers Wisely: Lessons from WWF’s Work for Integrated River Basin Management (Gland, Switzerland: WWF, October 2003), p. 2, and from Tajkera Khatun, ―The Ganges Water Withdrawal in the Upstream at Farakka and Its Impact in the Downstream Bangladesh,‖ paper presented at the International Conference on Regional Cooperation on Transboundary Rivers: Impact of the Indian River-linking Project (Dhaka, Bangladesh), 17-19 December 2004, pp. 227, 229, 242; Indus from Erik Eckholm, ―A River Diverted, the Sea Rushes In,‖ New York Times, 22 April 2003; Nile from K.W.G. Rekha Nianthi and Zahid Husain, ―Impact of Climate Change on Rivers with Special Reference to River-linking Project,‖ paper presented at the International Conference on Regional Cooperation on Transboundary Rivers: Impact of the Indian River-linking Project (Dhaka, Bangladesh), 17-19 December 2004, p. 275, from Embassy of Egypt, ―Egypt: Basic Information,‖ factsheet, www.egyptembassy.us/basicinfo.htm#CLIMATE, viewed 19 July 2006, and from Gamal Nkrumah, ―It Must Be Something in the Water,‖ Al-Ahram Weekly, 3 March 2004; Ganges, Indus, and Nile from Sandra Postel, Pillar of Sand (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), pp. 71–73; Yellow from Eric Zusman, ―The River Runs Dry: Examining Water Shortages in the Yellow River Basin,‖ China in Transition Paper 12 (Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Asia Institute, 2000), p. 2, from Houjie Wang et al., ―Interannual and Seasonal Variation of the Huanghe (Yellow River) Water Discharge Over the Past 50 Years: Connections to Impacts from ENSO Events and Dams,‖ Global and Planetary Change, vol. 50 (2006), p. 213, and from International Water Management Institute and Yellow River Conservancy Commission, ―Yellow River Comprehensive Assessment: Basin Features and Issues,‖ Working Paper 57 (Sri Lanka: 2003), p. 11; population projections from United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision (New York: 2005). For more information from Earth Policy Institute, see www.earthpolicy.org.
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