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What a present day water crisis looks like

By Johnny Simon
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Predictions of catastrophic water shortages may seem like apocalyptic visions of the future, but water crises are indeed a fact of modern life already. Natural factors like drought have left some reservoirs depleted, while siphoning of historical water sources have transformed freshwater bodies into dusty shadows of their former selves.

Aral Sea

What used to be one of the largest freshwater bodies in the world is now mostly desert. After Soviet-era decisions to divert water for agricultural projects from this lake that touches what is now Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea has continued to shrink over the decades, down to about 10% of its original footprint.

Cape Town, South Africa

Prolonged drought brought Cape Town, South Africa to the brink of “Day Zero,” when the city would run out of usable water. Extreme water saving measures were enacted and in February of last year, Day Zero was moved to 2019 and some restrictions were relaxed.

Reuters/Mike Hutchings
People queue to collect water from a spring in the Newlands suburb of Cape Town on Jan. 25, 2018.
Reuters/Mike Hutchings
People fill up containers with spring water in Cape Town on Jan. 25, 2018.
Reuters/Mike Hutchings
The Theewaterskloof Dam, which supplies most of Cape Town’s potable water, is seen from above near Villiersdorp, South Africa on Feb. 20.
Reuters/Mike Hutchings
Water levels are seen at about 24% full at Voelvlei Dam, one of the regions largest water catchment dams, near Cape Town on Nov. 8, 2017.
Reuters/Mike Hutchings
A man fills up a containers with water from a polluted river near Cape Town as the city’s water crisis mounts on Feb. 2, 2018.
Reuters/Mike Hutchings
Residents fill up a containers with water from a polluted river.

Lake Poopo

Though salty, Bolivia’s former second largest lake, Lake Poopō, provided a way of life for indigenous populations and diverse wildlife. What remains now is mostly arid salt flats.

Australian droughts

Australia is already a particularly dry continent, but recent droughts have been some of the worst in memory.

Reuters/David Gray
Farmers ride their horses next to a fence that adjoins a drought-affected paddock, in central New South Wales in July of 2018.
Reuters/David Gray
A kangaroo drinks from a water tank located in a drought-effected paddock.
Reuters/David Gray
A lone tree stands near a water trough in a drought-effected paddock on the outskirts of town of Walgett, in New South Wales on July 20, 2018.
Reuters/David Gray
A truck stirs up dust on a road in the town of Walgett, Australia.

Lake Mead

This manmade lake, a build-up of the Colorado River running into the Hoover Dam, is a lifeline for the Southwest, in particular Las Vegas, which has seem rampant development over the past decades, seen on the left of these satellite images, as well as major cities in Arizona. Recent droughts and depleted snow melt flowing into tributaries has left Lake Mead close to dangerously low levels.


Correction: This article incorrectly stated that Lake Mead sits along the Columbia River. It sits along the Colorado River.