What Would Happen If Earth Ran Out of Water: Timetable


It’s ironic that on a planet that is 70 percent water, people still don’t have enough clean, safe water to drink and a water shortage can affect you no matter where you live in the world. It’s arguably humanity’s most vital natural resource. It sustains all other activities; it’s the essential basis of economies, societies, and human life.­ What would happen if Earth ran out of water?

Timeline:

  • Panic & rationing start as H2O scarcity becomes evident
  • Within months, cities worldwide face H2O shortages
  • Agricultural collapse-food shortage
  • Health crises escalate-lack of clean H2O
  • Economic turmoil as industries reliant on H2O fall
  • Social unrest-mass migrations begin
  • Global war erupts over remaining H2O

The freshwater on Earth makes up just three percent of the water supply. Less than one percent is freely available; the rest is tied up in ice, as in icebergs, glaciers, and snowcaps. This means that all of the rivers, streams, lakes, aquifers, and groundwater expected to sustain the 6,602,224,175 people on Earth make up less than one percent of the total water on the planet.

Introduction:

The idea of Earth completely running out of water is hard to imagine because of the vast amounts of water on the planet. However, we can see how water is becoming exceedingly scarce and the critical importance of water, where it’s already a crisis. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may be facing water shortages, studies show.

In the realm of global challenges, few scenarios evoke as immediate a sense of urgency and existential threat as the prospect of Earth running out of water. Water, essential to all known forms of life and integral to human civilization’s development, sustains ecosystems, agriculture, industry, and daily life.

Our global water supply is not unlimited, and its value is increasing with each passing day. If the earth were to run out of water, the consequences would be disastrous. It would affect everyone on our planet, no matter where they are located. There would be far less of the color green since all vegetation would die a slow death, and wind fluctuations would rule most of our weather conditions.

Since the oceans are our greatest carbon sink, without them, the Earth would experience scolding hot temperatures. While such an apocalyptic scenario might seem impossible to us, it is no secret we are having trouble with the way we treat our planet’s resources. The crisis we are currently experiencing is a culmination of many factors, but the growth of the global population puts the most strain on water demands.

Here’s a hypothetical timeline of what could happen if Earth were to run out of water.

Year 0-1: Initial Scarcity

The onset of water scarcity triggers immediate and widespread alarm. Governments around the world issue urgent conservation measures and begin implementing water rationing protocols. Households face strict limits on daily water usage, with non-essential activities such as washing cars and watering lawns banned outright. The price of water skyrockets, making it increasingly difficult for low-income communities to afford even the most basic supply.

Agricultural production suffers as irrigation is restricted, leading to significant drops in crop yields and the onset of food shortages. Public health begins to deteriorate as access to clean water diminishes, resulting in an uptick in waterborne diseases. This initial phase of scarcity underscores the critical need for immediate action to manage dwindling water resources and prevent further escalation of the crisis.

Fresh water
Initial Scarcity of Freshwater

­­Water is becoming an increasingly important issue in the developed world. But this issue is nothing new for other, less developed nations. For centuries, clean drinking water has been hard to come by for many populations, especially those in impoverished nations.

Countries that are unable to address water-related challenges probably will face a confluence of challenges, including greater risk of disease, growing inequality, poor economic growth, and a heightened risk of internal political instability. Shared water resources among states are increasingly likely to become flashpoints as water security diminishes and geopolitical competition grows.

According to the World Bank and Global Trends if current poor water management policies continue, by 2040 water security will decline in many areas that are not naturally water-scarce—such as parts of Central Africa, East and Southeast Asia, and Latin America—and water security will further deteriorate in areas where water resources are naturally in short supply—including large stretches of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Sahel.

In some areas, water may be available, but it’s often disease-ridden, and drinking it can be fatal. In other areas, a viable water supply is sim­ply not available at all. What would happen if a worldwide Water Emergency developed?

Public Awareness and Panic

  • News Breaks: Scientific reports and media outlets begin to warn about the impending water crisis, highlighting drastically reduced water levels in major reservoirs, rivers, and aquifers.
  • Government Actions: Governments across the world hold emergency meetings to address the crisis. They initiate widespread public awareness campaigns urging conservation and mindful water usage.
  • Public Reaction: Panic buying of bottled water and other essential supplies occurs. Public anxiety increases as people begin to understand the severity of the situation.

Water Rationing

  • Immediate Measures: Governments enforce strict water rationing, limiting daily water usage per household. Non-essential water uses, such as washing cars, watering lawns, and filling swimming pools, are prohibited.
  • Priority Allocation: Water is prioritized for drinking, sanitation, and essential services. Industries dependent on large water supplies, such as agriculture and manufacturing, face severe restrictions.
  • Monitoring and Enforcement: Authorities implement stringent monitoring systems to ensure compliance with rationing rules. Penalties for violations are imposed to deter misuse.

Price Surge

  • Cost Increase: The price of water rises dramatically due to its scarcity. Bottled water becomes a luxury item, and utility bills for water services increase significantly.
  • Economic Strain: Low-income communities and small businesses struggle to afford the rising costs. Inequality in access to water becomes more pronounced, exacerbating social tensions.
  • Market Response: The black market for water emerges, with people resorting to illegal means to obtain and sell water at inflated prices.

Agricultural Impact

  • Irrigation Cutbacks: Farmers face severe water restrictions, leading to reduced irrigation for crops. Many fields are left fallow, and water-intensive crops are abandoned.
  • Food Shortages: The decline in agricultural production leads to food shortages and increased prices for staple foods. Governments attempt to import food, but global supply chains are strained.
  • Rural Exodus: Farmers and rural communities suffer economically, leading to increased migration to urban areas in search of better living conditions and access to resources.

Health Issues

  • Waterborne Diseases: People resort to using contaminated sources as clean water becomes scarce. This leads to increased waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid.
  • Sanitation Crisis: Hospitals and healthcare facilities struggle to maintain hygiene standards, increasing the risk of infections and disease outbreaks.
  • Vulnerable Populations: Children, the elderly, and those with preexisting health conditions are particularly at risk. Malnutrition becomes more widespread due to food shortages, further weakening immune systems.

The first year of severe water shortages would be marked by widespread public panic, stringent water rationing, and a surge in water prices. Agricultural production would plummet, leading to food shortages and economic hardship, especially for low-income communities and rural areas. The health impacts would be significant, with an increase in waterborne diseases and a strain on healthcare systems. This initial phase underscores the importance of urgent and coordinated efforts to address and mitigate the crisis.

Year 1-5: Severe Depletion

As water scarcity intensifies, the world enters a phase of severe depletion, with far-reaching consequences. Global economies start to collapse as water-dependent industries, particularly agriculture and manufacturing, falter. Mass migrations ensue, with people fleeing drought-stricken areas in search of regions with slightly better water availability, leading to overcrowded cities and strained resources.

Conflicts over water become frequent, both within and between nations, as competition for the dwindling resource intensifies. The environmental impact is devastating: aquatic ecosystems collapse, causing a massive loss of biodiversity, while terrestrial ecosystems also suffer due to the interconnectedness of water sources.

Amidst this turmoil, there are urgent efforts to develop and implement desalination and water recycling technologies, but progress is slow and costly, proving insufficient to meet the global demand. Society grapples with unprecedented challenges as it strives to adapt to a world with critically limited water supplies.

Presently according to The World Health Organization:

  • Four billion people — almost two-thirds of the world’s population —  experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year.
  • Over two billion people live in countries where water supply is inadequate.
  • Half of the world’s population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025.
  • Some 700 million people could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030.
  • By 2040, roughly 1 in 4 children worldwide will be living in areas of extremely high water stress.

What if the world enters a phase of severe depletion?

Economic Downturn

  • Industry Collapse: Key industries reliant on water, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and energy production, face severe disruptions. Factories close, and agricultural output continues to decline sharply.
  • Job Losses: Unemployment rates skyrocket as businesses shut down or cut back operations. The service sector also suffers due to reduced consumer spending.
  • Global Recession: The interconnected global economy faces a severe recession. Stock markets crash, international trade diminishes, and governments struggle to stabilize their economies.
  • Inflation: Prices for essential goods, including food and water, continue to rise, leading to hyperinflation in some regions. The cost of living becomes unsustainable for many.

    30,900+ No Water Farming Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock
    Severe Depletion of Freshwater

Mass Migration

  • Urban Influx: People from drought-stricken rural areas and smaller towns migrate en masse to urban centers with marginally better water access. This results in overcrowded cities and strain on urban resources.
  • Border Pressures: International migration increases as people move to countries perceived to have more stable water supplies. This leads to heightened tensions and stricter immigration policies.
  • Refugee Crisis: Camps for internally displaced persons and refugees grow, but they struggle with inadequate resources, sanitation, and health services.
  • Social Tensions: The influx of migrants exacerbates social tensions and competition for scarce resources, leading to increased xenophobia and social unrest.

Conflict and Unrest

  • Resource Wars: Nations and regions engage in conflicts over control of remaining water sources. Existing geopolitical tensions are amplified, and new conflicts arise.
  • Civil Unrest: Protests and riots become common as people demand access to water and relief from the worsening economic conditions. Governments face challenges maintaining order.
  • Water Piracy: Organized crime groups exploit the situation, controlling water supplies and selling them at exorbitant prices. Law enforcement struggles to curb these illegal activities.

Biodiversity Loss

  • Aquatic Ecosystems: Rivers, lakes, and wetlands dry up, leading to the collapse of aquatic ecosystems. Fish and other aquatic species face extinction.
  • Terrestrial Impact: The loss of water bodies affects terrestrial ecosystems dependent on them. Forests, grasslands, and other habitats degrade, resulting in widespread biodiversity loss.
  • Climate Feedback: The loss of vegetation and wetlands affects the climate, reducing rainfall and exacerbating the drought conditions, creating a vicious cycle.

Technological Innovations

  • Desalination: Desalination technology sees a surge in investment and development. Coastal cities build desalination plants, but the process is energy-intensive and expensive, limiting its widespread adoption.
  • Water Recycling: Efforts to recycle wastewater increase, with advanced treatment plants being constructed. However, the infrastructure development is slow and costly.
  • Innovation Hurdles: Despite the urgent need, technological advancements are hampered by economic constraints, political instability, and the sheer scale of the crisis.
  • International Cooperation: Some international initiatives and collaborations emerge to address the water crisis, sharing technology and expertise. However, political disagreements and logistical challenges hinder significant progress.

Years 1-5 of severe water depletion would lead to a profound economic downturn, with industries collapsing and mass unemployment. Large-scale migration would strain urban centers and international borders, creating a refugee crisis and increasing social tensions.

Conflicts over water would escalate, leading to wars and civil unrest. The environmental impact would be devastating, with massive biodiversity loss and further climatic instability. Although technological innovations in desalination and water recycling would see significant efforts, their implementation would be slow and insufficient to meet the immediate needs, underscoring the critical need for comprehensive and coordinated global action.

Year 5-10: Critical Phase

In the critical phase of water scarcity, the situation becomes dire as major cities exhaust their water supplies, leading to urban chaos and the breakdown of social order. Persistent food shortages escalate into widespread famine, with malnutrition becoming rampant and starvation claiming lives.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities struggle to maintain basic hygiene, exacerbating the public health crisis as waterborne diseases spread unchecked. The global economy collapses as international trade halts and nations focus solely on internal stability, abandoning cooperative efforts.

With the collapse of essential services and infrastructure, daily life regresses to a focus on mere survival. The combined effects of famine, disease, and conflict result in significant population decline, as humanity faces an unprecedented existential threat. This critical phase underscores the urgent need for sustainable water management and immediate, coordinated global action to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of severe water depletion.

Water rationing in a severe scarcity scenario would involve governments implementing strict and comprehensive measures to manage and distribute the limited water supply effectively. Households would be allotted a fixed amount of water per day, just enough to meet basic needs such as drinking, cooking, and minimal hygiene. Non-essential uses of water, such as watering lawns, washing cars, and filling swimming pools, would be prohibited.

Enforcement mechanisms, such as water usage monitoring and substantial fines for violations, would be put in place to ensure compliance. Priority would be given to essential services like hospitals and emergency services, while industries heavily dependent on water might face severe restrictions or shutdowns. Public awareness campaigns would be launched to educate citizens on water conservation techniques and the importance of adhering to rationing rules to ensure equitable distribution and survival during the crisis.

When waters run dry, people can’t get enough to drink, wash, or feed crops and economic decline may occur. In addition, inadequate sanitation—a problem for 2.4 billion people as of 2024—can lead to deadly diarrheal diseases, including cholera typhoid fever, and other water-borne illnesses.

Urban Desperation

  • Water Outages: Major cities, including metropolises in developed and developing countries, experience severe water shortages, with many running out of water entirely. Public water supply systems fail.
  • Social Breakdown: Urban areas descend into chaos as residents scramble for any available water. Riots and violent clashes over water access become commonplace.
  • Infrastructure Collapse: Essential services, such as sanitation, waste management, and public transportation, deteriorate rapidly. The breakdown of urban infrastructure exacerbates the crisis.

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    Water Emergencies and Emergency Water Supply-Critical Phase

Widespread Famine

  • Agricultural Failure: Continued lack of water devastates agriculture. Staple crops fail, and livestock die off, leading to severe food shortages.
  • Food Rationing: Governments implement strict food rationing policies, but supplies are insufficient to meet the needs of the population.
  • Malnutrition: Chronic malnutrition has become widespread, particularly affecting children and the elderly. The weakened population becomes more susceptible to diseases.
  • Starvation: In the hardest-hit areas, starvation becomes a common cause of death as food supplies dwindle.

Public Health Crisis

  • Healthcare Breakdown: Hospitals and healthcare facilities struggle to maintain basic hygiene due to a lack of clean water, leading to the spread of infections and diseases.
  • Disease Outbreaks: Waterborne diseases, such as cholera and dysentery, become rampant. In addition, malnutrition-related illnesses surge.
  • Mental Health: The psychological impact of the crisis leads to widespread mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and trauma, overwhelming mental health services.

Economic Collapse

  • Global Trade Halt: International trade grinds to a halt as countries focus on maintaining internal stability and securing their own resources. Global supply chains collapse.
  • Financial Markets: Stock markets and financial institutions face unprecedented crises. Many banks and corporations declare bankruptcy.
  • Black Markets: Black markets for water, food, and essential medicines thrive, often controlled by criminal organizations.
  • Barter Economy: In some regions, traditional currency loses value, and barter systems emerge as the primary means of trade.

Population Decline

  • Famine and Disease: The combined effects of famine, malnutrition, and disease lead to a significant decline in the global population. Death rates far exceed birth rates.
  • Conflict Casualties: Wars and conflicts over water and other scarce resources contribute to high mortality rates.
  • Migration Toll: The physical and emotional toll of mass migrations results in high casualties among displaced populations. Refugee camps suffer from inadequate supplies and unsanitary conditions.
  • Long-term Impact: The significant population reduction alters social structures, family units, and communities. Entire regions become depopulated.

Years 5-10 mark a critical phase where urban areas face extreme desperation due to water shortages, leading to social breakdown and chaos. Persistent food shortages result in widespread famine and chronic malnutrition. Public health crises escalate as hospitals struggle to operate without clean water, and diseases spread rapidly. The global economy collapses, with international trade halting and financial markets failing.

The cumulative effects of famine, disease, conflict, and migration lead to a significant decline in the global population, transforming societal structures and reducing human resilience. The world enters a period of unprecedented hardship, underscoring the catastrophic impact of severe water scarcity.

Year 10-20: Near Extinction

Water scarcity has escalated to a crisis nearing extinction, where humanity faces the brink of survival. The once abundant resource has dwindled to critical levels, leading to the collapse of agricultural systems, widespread famine, and severe public health crises.

Major cities have run dry, triggering urban chaos, social breakdown, and violent conflicts over remaining water sources. As ecosystems collapse and biodiversity plummets, the interconnected fabric of life on Earth unravels. Scattered, isolated communities struggle to survive, relying on meager local water sources and rudimentary living conditions.

The loss of modern civilization’s infrastructure and technological advancements marks a regression to survivalist behaviors. Without immediate, drastic intervention and sustainable water management, humanity faces the stark possibility of extinction.

Survival Mode

  • Basic Needs Only: Human society regresses drastically, focusing solely on securing basic necessities such as water, food, and shelter.
  • Localized Communities: Communities become isolated and self-sufficient as global connectivity and trade networks collapse.
  • Traditional Knowledge: Traditional skills and knowledge become essential for survival as modern infrastructure and technologies fail.

Desalination and Recycling

  • Limited Impact: Despite efforts, large-scale desalination and water recycling projects struggle to meet the overwhelming global demand for water.
  • Energy and Cost Constraints: Desalination remains energy-intensive and expensive, limiting its widespread adoption in resource-depleted regions.
  • Environmental Impact: Intensive desalination practices further strain marine ecosystems, disrupting coastal biodiversity.

Ecological Collapse

  • Ecosystem Devastation: Remaining ecosystems, already weakened by prolonged water scarcity, collapse further. Many species face extinction.
  • Climate Feedback: The loss of vegetation and aquatic habitats accelerates climate change, leading to more extreme weather patterns and desertification.
  • Irreversible Changes: The Earth undergoes irreversible ecological transformations, impacting future generations’ ability to restore biodiversity.

Technological Regression

  • Innovation Stagnation: Societal focus shifts from innovation to survival, resulting in a stagnation of technological advancements across various sectors.
  • Infrastructure Decay: Existing infrastructure deteriorates without sufficient maintenance and investment, exacerbating living conditions.
  • Loss of Knowledge: Critical scientific and technological knowledge is lost or inaccessible, hindering future recovery efforts.

Years 10-20 depict a grim scenario where human civilization faces near extinction due to prolonged water scarcity. Society retreats into survival mode, with communities struggling to meet basic needs amidst collapsing ecosystems and technological regression.

Despite efforts in desalination and water recycling, global demand outstrips supply, further exacerbating ecological collapse and societal breakdown. The catastrophic consequences of severe water scarcity highlight the critical importance of sustainable water management and global cooperation in safeguarding Earth’s precious resources for future generations.

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Year 20+: Endgame

In the endgame of water scarcity, human civilization is reduced to scattered, small communities struggling for survival near remaining water sources. The collapse of modern society leads to a significant regression in technological and social structures, with knowledge and culture preserved only in fragmented forms. The ecological collapse is nearly complete, with most ecosystems irreparably damaged and biodiversity severely diminished.

Desperate efforts in desalination and water recycling provide limited relief, insufficient to meet global needs. The focus shifts entirely to basic survival, with communities relying on rudimentary technologies and traditional knowledge.

If any semblance of societal structure remains, there is a faint hope for gradual recovery through strict water management and sustainable practices. However, without significant breakthroughs and cooperative efforts, humanity faces the stark possibility of extinction, highlighting the critical importance of preserving and managing our vital water resources.

Scattered Communities

  • Fragmented Settlements: Human populations are reduced to scattered communities clustered around remaining water sources, such as natural springs, rivers, and desalination plants.
  • Isolation: Communication and travel between communities are severely limited, leading to isolation and the loss of global connectivity.
  • Survival Challenges: Communities face ongoing challenges in securing water, food, and basic resources, relying heavily on local ecosystems and traditional knowledge.

Loss of Civilization

  • Cultural Fragmentation: Modern civilization as we know it ceases to exist, with fragmented remnants of knowledge, art, and cultural practices preserved within isolated communities.
  • Technological Regression: Advanced technologies become relics of the past as societies prioritize immediate survival over innovation. Basic tools and skills dominate daily life.

Potential Recovery

  • Slow Rehabilitation: If some technological and societal infrastructure remains intact, gradual recovery efforts may begin.
  • Water Management: Strict water management becomes paramount, with communities implementing sustainable practices such as rainwater harvesting, community wells, and efficient irrigation techniques.
  • Innovative Solutions: A renewed focus on developing and deploying advanced, sustainable technologies for water desalination, purification, and recycling.
  • Global Cooperation: International collaborations emerge to share resources, knowledge, and technologies to support recovery efforts and rebuild societal structures.

Extinction Risk

  • Fragile Existence: Humanity faces the risk of extinction if recovery efforts falter or if catastrophic environmental changes continue unabated.
  • Adaptation Challenges: Communities struggle to adapt to the new environmental realities, including altered climates and depleted natural resources.
  • Long-term Sustainability: Sustainable practices and careful resource management become essential for ensuring long-term survival and resilience against future crises.

Year 20 and beyond paint a picture of humanity’s struggle for survival in a drastically altered world. Scattered communities cling to survival near remaining water sources, preserving fragments of knowledge and culture. The loss of modern civilization necessitates a slow and cautious path toward recovery, focusing on sustainable water management and innovative technologies. The potential for recovery hinges on the resilience of human communities and their ability to adapt to profound environmental and societal changes, highlighting the critical importance of global cooperation and stewardship of Earth’s resources.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the hypothetical scenario of Earth running out of water paints a stark picture of the cascading consequences that severe water scarcity would bring to humanity and the planet. The timeline from initial scarcity to near-extinction illustrates the rapid and devastating impact on every aspect of society, economy, environment, and human health.

From the onset of panic and water rationing to the collapse of industries, mass migrations, and societal unrest, the scenario highlights how essential water is to every facet of human life. As the crisis intensifies over the years, with urban chaos, widespread famine, and health crises becoming the norm, global stability and cooperation falter, leading to a critical phase where survival itself becomes the primary focus.

By the endgame, human civilization has regressed to scattered communities struggling to survive near dwindling water sources. The loss of modern civilization and technological regression leave behind fragmented remnants of knowledge and culture, with the potential for slow recovery contingent upon strict water management and sustainable innovations.

This hypothetical scenario underscores the urgent need for proactive measures in water conservation, sustainable resource management, and international cooperation to mitigate the risks of such a catastrophic water crisis. It serves as a stark reminder of the interconnectedness of human well-being with the health of our planet’s ecosystems and resources, urging us to take collective action to safeguard Earth’s water for future generations.

JimGalloway Author/Editor

References:

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FAQ’s

What would cause Earth to run out of water?

  • Causes: Severe climate change, over-extraction of groundwater, pollution, and unsustainable water management practices could lead to critical water scarcity.

How would water rationing work?

  • Rationing: Governments would implement strict limits on daily water usage per household, prioritize essential uses, and ban non-essential activities like watering lawns or filling pools.

What immediate impacts would we see?

  • Immediate Impacts: Public panic, skyrocketing water prices, widespread rationing, and severe impacts on agriculture leading to food shortages.

How would agriculture be affected?

  • Agricultural Impact: Crop failures due to lack of irrigation, leading to significant food shortages and increased prices for staples.

What are the health implications?

  • Health Issues: Increase in waterborne diseases, malnutrition from food shortages, and overwhelmed healthcare systems struggling to maintain hygiene.

Would technology save us?

  • Technological Solutions: Efforts in desalination and water recycling would be made, but these are often expensive and slow to implement, falling short of global needs.

How would society change?

  • Social Changes: Increased social unrest, mass migrations to water-rich areas, breakdown of urban infrastructure, and potential regression to more basic living standards.

Is recovery possible?

  • Potential Recovery: Slow recovery might be possible with strict water management and sustainable technologies, but significant global cooperation and innovation would be required.

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