About 5.5 million people around the world die prematurely every year from breathing polluted air, and the majority of those deaths are occurring in China and India, where factories and coal-fired power plants are fueling economic growth, according to a report released Friday.

The authors said the findings show that disease from air and household pollution ranks as the No. 2 cause of death worldwide. It comes in right behind smoking, which the World Health Organization says kills six million people annually.

Air pollution is composed of fine particulate matter from power generation, transportation, and open burning.

Household pollution is created by stoves that burn coal, wood, and animal dung for cooking and heat, primarily in India and Africa. Both can lead to heart attacks and strokes, and the researchers found that nearly one million people die annually from these causes in China, more than a half-million die in India, and nearly 300,000 die in the United States and European Union countries.

The Chinese government is moving aggressively to improve air quality by forcing automobiles there to be equipped with cleaner technology, and power plants to lower the amount of particulates they spew. But gains are offset by the country’s drive to become a world economic power – through the very industries it seeks to better regulate.

Two-Thirds of the World Faces Severe Water Shortages

About four billion people, or two-thirds of the world’s population, face severe water shortages during at least one month every year, far more than was previously thought.

In a paper published Friday in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Hoekstra and his colleague Mesfin M. Mekonnen designed a computer model to create what they say is a more accurate picture of water scarcity around the world. Severe water scarcity can lead to crop failure and low crop yields, which could cause food price increases as well as famine and widespread starvation.

An area experiences severe water scarcity when its farms, industries and households consume double the amount of water available in that area.

“That means that groundwater levels are falling, lakes are drying up, less water is flowing in rivers, and water supplies for industry and farmers are threatened.”

Not everyone would suffer equally. In more affluent countries, severe water scarcity could mean water rations for showering and gardening, while in very poor countries it could lead to shortages of drinking water.

Half of the four billion people who experience conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month of the year live in either China or India, Dr. Hoeskstra said. Of the remaining two billion, the majority live mostly in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico and the western and southern parts of the United States, such as California, Texas and Florida.

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Planet Heading Toward Acute Water Shortages

The United Nations says the world is on the brink of at least a 40 percent shortfall in water supplies due to climate change and an accelerated use of the precious commodity to feed a surging global population.

A report by the world body says that the demand for water will exceed its rate of replenishment by 40 percent in just the next 15 years.

“The fact is, there is enough water to meet the world’s needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the report says.

It points to improvident use of rapidly disappearing groundwater sources, pollution and erratic weather patterns caused by manmade climate change as the major challenges for future water supplies.



Massive Melting Of Andes Glaciers

The tropical glaciers in South America are melting at their fastest rate in 300 years. Glaciers in the tropical Andes have shrunk by 30-50% since the 1970s, according to a recent study.

The glaciers provide fresh water for tens of millions in South America.

Andes Glaciers


The study included data on about half of all Andean glaciers and blamed the melting on an average temperature rise of 0.7C from 1950-1994.

Glaciers are retreating everywhere in the tropical Andes, but the melting is more pronounced for small glaciers at low altitudes.

Glaciers at altitudes below 5,400m have lost about 1.35m in ice thickness per year since the late 1970s, twice the rate of the larger, high-altitude glaciers.

Because the maximum thickness of these small, low-altitude glaciers rarely exceeds 40 metres, with such an annual loss they will probably completely disappear within the coming decades.

Water shortages: The researchers also say there was little change in the amount of rainfall in the region over the last few decades. Without changes in rainfall, the region would face water shortages in the future, the scientists say.

The Santa River valley in Peru would be most affected; its hundreds of thousands of inhabitants rely heavily on glacier water for agriculture, domestic consumption, and hydropower.

Large cities, such as La Paz in Bolivia, could also face problems. Glaciers provide about 15% of the La Paz water supply throughout the year, increasing to about 27% during the dry season.