NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday called climate change a "crisis multiplier" that will exacerbate "droughts and flooding" and spur global migration, as the military alliance announced efforts to incorporate climate change mitigation into its mission.
In a new interview, Oscar-winning actor and water equity philanthropist Matt Damon said the link between climate change and water scarcity will deepen over the coming years and predominantly impact the world's most impoverished communities.
When asked about the connection between climate change and water scarcity, Damon pointed to low-income people in developing countries. Currently, 2.2 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water.
"Those are the people that we're dealing with, those are the people that we're trying to reach, and those are the people who are going to feel the effects of [climate change] more than anybody," says Damon, who co-founded the nonprofit organization Water.org in 2009 and WaterEquity in 2017.
"It's always going to fall to the poorest people on Earth to bear the brunt of these things more than anybody," he adds. "That's the connection."
Climate observers expect water scarcity to worsen significantly over the coming decades. In the early to mid-2010s, 1.9 billion people, or 27% of the global population, lived in areas at risk of a severe water shortage, according to a United Nations report released last year. By 2050, that figure will increase to somewhere between 2.7 billion and 3.2 billion people.
"Water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change," The United Nations says on its website.
'You've got to move to where the water is'
Water scarcity will also exacerbate global food insecurity, which last year worsened severely and caused “unprecedented” migration, the United Nations said in November. That trend will continue in the coming years as drought diminishes arable land and reduces crop yields, according to a report released two years ago by the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"As we look at water stress, as we look at climate change, a lot of those people are going to be driven into poverty because of the tenuous access that they have to water now," says Gary White, CEO and co-founder of both Water.org and WaterEquity.
"If you are not able to get water because of a drought that's caused by climate change, you've got to move," he adds. "You've got to move to where the water is."
Damon and White spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Damon kicked off his water philanthropy with the launch of H2O Africa in 2006, while working on a documentary called "Running the Sahara," which profiled three men who attempted to traverse the Sahara Desert.
At a Clinton Global Initiative meeting two years later, Damon met White, who nearly two decades earlier had founded WaterPartners International, an organization that sought to alleviate the water crisis in Latin America, Barron's reported. The two began to discuss the possibility of a partnership and founded Water.org a year later.
Global climate migration is already underway and will increase dramatically over the rest of this century, according to an investigation released last year by The New York Times. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, more than 140 million people will move within their countries' borders due to climate change by 2050, the World Bank found.
Speaking with Yahoo Finance, White said that water scarcity plays a central role in migration that observers ultimately attribute to climate change.
"Water is the root of so much of what needs to happen for people to maintain their income and their lifestyle and their home," White says.
"When we talk about climate refugees, we are talking about water refugees, most of the time," he adds.