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As much of the United States continues to suffer through what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has called the country’s most extensive drought in more than 50 years, there is growing concern over how broad and severe the impacts may be. Events like this drought—which are projected to become increasingly common should climate change continue unabated—provide a sharp reminder of how heavily communities and global economies rely on water.

Last weekend, Jessica Yu's new water documentary "Last Call at the Oasis" took us on tour of the impacts water scarcity is creating around the globe, from the parched pastures of Australia's farmlands to the sewage-polluted banks of the Jordan River. This film shines a much-needed light on the various water challenges we all now face at a critical time. The numbers alone are eye-opening.

Let me ‘fess up. The state of the environment sometimes gets me down. But to be fair, Earth’s vital signs would drive any respectable emergency room doctor into a state of utter panic. Globally, two thirds of ecosystem services, such as freshwater, pollination, natural hazard regulation, have been degraded in the past 50 years. Annual rates of growth in yields of many basic crops have declined over the past 20 years. The effects of global climate change are already being felt around the world.

Around the world and throughout every sector of the economy, companies and investors are increasingly aware of risks associated with their dependence on fresh water. For example, a recent report by the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Water Disclosure branch looked at water-stressed South Africa and revealed that 85% of water-intensive companies in the country are exposed to water risks, with 70% expecting to face water impacts to their operations within the next five years.

It’s rare for water to make waves at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of business leaders and finance ministers. But the most recent Davos summit was an exception. A new eye-opening report ranked water supply among the top five global risks in terms of impact– on par with systemic financial failure and fiscal imbalances.

The Aqueduct project is an effort to measure and map water related risks being developed by the World Resources Institute with the support of an alliance founded by General Electric and Goldman Sachs. As part of this effort, the Aqueduct team convened its hydrological modeling partner ISciences and experts from The Coca-Cola Company to develop and analyze a set of maps for the Bonn2011 Nexus conference that illustrate the complex relationships between water, food, and energy worldwide (see below).

For the last five months, a severe drought in central China has brought water levels in the Yangtze River to near-record lows. The drought’s impacts -- from threatened drinking water supplies to disruptions in manufacturing -- have rippled through the population and economy of China. They are a reminder of the diverse and complicated ways in which water, or the lack thereof, can pose risks for companies, investors and policy makers.

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