Water is the next big Climate Crisis. Water stress – not just scarcity, but also increased demand and pollution – is already driving the first waves of climate refugees. Rivers are drying out before they meet the oceans and ancient lakes are disappearing. Many of the world’s freshwater sources are being drained faster than they are being replenished. Of the world’s major aquifers (natural underground reservoirs), over half are receding, from India and China to the United States and France.

I take an unblinking look at the current situation and how we got here. And then look to the solutions. How are Singapore and Israel, for example – both severely water-stressed countries – not in the same predicament as Chennai or California? Do we have to stop eating almonds and asparagus grown in the deserts of California and Peru? Could desalination of seawater be our saviour or push us further into an ecological nightmare? 

THE LAST DROP: Solving the World’s Water Crisis, published by Picador, is out now in paperback. 

Book review: The Last Drop: Solving the World’s Water Crisis by Tim Smedley — how Britain’s taps could run dry

I read most of Tim Smedley’s book about the world’s impending water shortage while wallowing in the bath. It’s where I do much of my reading, happily turning the pages for hours until my flatmates begin to hammer on the door of our only bathroom. From that vantage, the thesis of The Last Drop: Solving the World’s Water Crisis felt utterly improbable. How can we be on the brink of a water shortage, not only elsewhere but in grey and soggy Britain too, when it flows so easily and cheaply...

The Guardian Long Read: ‘Drought is... the next pandemic’

During the summer months in the Oxfordshire town where I live, I go swimming in the nearby 50-metre lido. With my inelegantly slow breaststroke, from time to time I accidentally gulp some of the pool’s opulent, chlorine-clean 5.9m litres of water. I stand a bottle of water at the end of the lane, to drink from halfway through my swim. I normally have a shower afterwards, even if I’ve showered that morning. I live a wet, drenched, quenched existence. But, as I discovered, this won’t last. I am living on borrowed time and borrowed water.

The pollution causing harmful algal blooms

It is the "smell of decay and death", says Beth Stauffer, from the University of Louisiana. "It has a physical presence. This layer of very striking greens and blueish greens…when you put your paddle in it, you can feel it."

She's describing the harmful algal blooms (HABs) that used to be more associated with marine environments. But in recent years they've been moving further inland and affecting freshwater systems, too. And scientists such as Stauffer are trying to find out why.

Why Britain’s rain can’t sustain its thirst

When it comes to water scarcity, the last place on Earth you’d think of is rain-soaked England. Winter here is cold and wet. It rains for what feels like weeks on end. Lawns squelch with saturated soil and garden water butts overflow, likely to be unused until April. The UK’s average annual rainfall is a sopping 1200mm, compared to the 300s in Afghanistan, or just double-figures in Egypt.

Yet within a few short months, significant parts of the UK will be staring down the barrel of empty water butts...

How to drink from the air

All air, from arid deserts to humid cities, contains water vapour – globally, an estimated 3,100 cubic miles (12,900 cubic kilometres) of water is suspended as humidity in the air around us. That’s five Lake Victoria’s (Africa’s great lake, at 2,700 cubic km). Or a whopping 418 times the volume of Loch Ness.

This is the humidity in the air we breathe, that reappears as beads of water on the side of a cold drink, or as morning dew on blades of grass. And a technological race is underway to harvest it as drinking water.

The outrageous plan to haul icebergs to Africa

If towing icebergs to hot, water-stressed regions sounds totally crazy to you, then consider this: the volume of water that breaks off Antarctica as icebergs each year is greater than the total global consumption of freshwater. And that stat doesn’t even include Arctic ice. This is pure freshwater, effectively wasted as it melts into the sea and contributes to rising sea levels. Does it sound less crazy now?

This untapped flow of water has enticed scientists and entrepreneurs for over a century...

'Energy for water' may have greater impact

In the water-food-energy nexus, the relationship between water and energy may appear obvious. Water is used to create energy through hydro-power for example, or to cool power stations or to mine fossil fuels. But there's another side to this 'water for energy' equation, which arguably has a greater impact on the nexus: the energy needed to pump, clean and transport water or 'energy for water'.

The US alone uses 520bn kilowatt‐hours (kWh) to move, treat and heat its water, which accounts for up

Water and food security: where to next?

A number of key themes emerged from last month's World Water Week: the importance of businesses and NGOs forming partnerships between with governments, nexus thinking (the interdependency of energy, food and water) and water allocation (who gets what). However, the world is running out of time to reach a consensus. Today, 1.1 billion people live without clean drinking water and almost the same number go hungry. By 2050, when we have a world population of nine billion, these figures will be far worse...