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10 Things We’re Surprisingly Running Low On

With the global supply chain crisis currently affecting every major country around the world, it’d come as a surprise to no one that we’re running out of certain things. However, it’d be a mistake to only see it as a post-Covid problem. Many of these shortages had started showing up in countries around the world well before Covid, only on a much smaller scale – the pandemic and its after-effects on the global economy have just amplified a problem that already existed. 

10. Antibiotics

pills

We don’t have to tell you how important antibiotics are for the medical sciences. From everyday injuries to complex surgeries, they’re a requirement in a variety of medical procedures, which is why it’d be pretty bad if we suddenly started running out of them. 

As you can guess from the general theme of this list, that’s exactly what’s been happening for the past few years. Apart from supply problems affecting the production of all kinds of medicine, we’re also now detecting a variety of new, powerful strains of diseases resistant to known antibiotics. It may not sound like a big deal, though imagine if you couldn’t treat a common cold with a quick medicine (or any medicine). What’s even more worrying is that these strains are coming up faster than we can improve and replace our antibiotics, causing a shortage of common, everyday medicines we used to take for granted.

It’s fueled by a variety of factors, including excessive use of antibiotics and improper disposal of medicinal waste on a large scale. The biggest factor, however, is the lack of regulation and industrial safety standards in some of the largest antibiotic producers – such as China and India – where the problem is even more pronounced than other countries.

9. Semiconductors

From our cars to phones to television sets, almost every gadget we use every day is made with semiconductors – silicon chips that are used to carry out complex data processing. They’re the building block of the technological revolution of a few decades ago, when they allowed us to build complex machines  – like computers – for the first time.

Currently, though, we’re going through a massive shortage of semiconductors around the world. It’s not because of raw material, as silicon is the second most abundant element found on Earth after oxygen. Instead, it’s due to the massive influx of demand for things like laptops and fitness appliances in the post-Covid era. On top of that, many car companies are now offering driver assistance systems and other advanced features that require a lot of chips to manufacture. 

Most semiconductor chips are also made by just two companies from Taiwan and South Korea, both of which have been affected by Covid restrictions and other supply chain issues of their own.

8. Bananas

banana

The banana is easily one of the most widely-consumed varieties of fruit around the world, even if it’s only grown in tropical and subtropical regions. Accounting for over 76% of the global fruit trade, it’s safe to say that it’s also the world’s most popular fruit.

Sadly, that may not last too long. The most consumed variety of bananas around the world – the Cavendish – is currently threatened by a fungal epidemic we don’t know how to stop. Known as Panama disease, it has been ravaging banana plants for almost three decades now. Just within the last decade, a stronger, deadlier strain of the fungus has spread to over 20 countries and destroyed about 10,000 hectares of banana plantations. The Cavendish variety also seems to be particularly vulnerable to the disease, with almost no resistance to it once infected.

7. Phosphorous

Phosphorus may not sound like an important element to most people, though it’s crucial to maintaining our food supply, as it’s the primary ingredient for all fertilizers. About 90% of all the phosphorus mined from various reserves around the world is used to grow our food, making it one of the most important natural elements for modern human life. 

In the past few years, though, many of the world’s largest phosphorus reserves have been completely depleted. We’re now using it up faster than it can be replaced by natural processes, so much so that if we don’t find new, large phosphorus reserves soon, we may completely run out of it in about 80 years

This phosphorus shortage is primarily due to the excess and uninformed use of fertilizers around the world. Because of a lack of modern methods of farming in underdeveloped countries, small-scale farmers often end up using a lot more fertilizer than they need. That doesn’t just deplete the phosphorus reserves, but also seeps into sources of water and permanently damages the environment. 

Even if we stop that, however, it’s a fact that phosphorus – like all other essential natural resources found on Earth – is limited in quantity, and we’d have to find entirely new methods of food production and farming to really solve this problem. 

6. Sand

sand

After water, sand is perhaps the most widely-consumed material that can be only found in nature – at least unless someone develops a new method to feasibly erode rock into tiny grains of sand over millions of years. It’s the building block of modern urban life, as it’s required to make concrete, which is then used to build our houses, offices and other buildings, along with other essential materials like asphalt and glass.

As you can guess, yup: we’re running out of sand, too. According to one study, our demand for sand may surpass its total production by 2050, and we still don’t know of any alternative that can reliably take its place afterward. Prices of sand are already reaching their all time high values due to the ongoing crunch in supply – an issue that could only get worse with time. Moreover, mining sand in fragile natural ecosystems – like riverbeds and ocean fronts – is severely damaging to them. Many countries have even capped their sand exports to protect their environments from further damage.

5. Food

food

Famines sound like a problem of the past, when we used to be so dependent on farming that even one failed crop or small war could send entire cities into mass deprivation and starvation. Undoubtedly, we’ve made some massive strides in the past few centuries in that regard, thanks to improved methods of food production and access to better healthcare.

Unfortunately, the past few years have erased all those hard fought gains against global hunger, as we’re currently living in the worst global famine since the Second World War. According to one report from 2019, over 85 million people required food assistance in over 46 countries around the world that year, particularly in conflict-ridden regions like Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

More worryingly, the pandemic has made the problem exponentially worse, as according to reports, the number of people pushed into extreme hunger after the pandemic may be as high as 20 million. One study by Oxfam estimated that about 11 people around the world now die of hunger every minute, which may well outpace the rate of global deaths due to Covid. 

4. Soil

soil

Topsoil is the upper-most layer of the ground and contains the highest amount of nutrients and organic matter, making it ideal for farming. Over 95% of all food grown around the world is grown on topsoil, making it an irreplaceable natural resource for our civilization. 

In the past few centuries, however, our modern, unsustainable methods of farming – including, but not limited to, excessive tilling, synthetic fertilizers and the increasing use of pesticides – have massively depleted the planet’s topsoil cover. According to one report, about half of all of the world’s fertile soil has disappeared in the last 150 years, and it’s happening at a much faster rate now than any other time in history. In the US, for one example, the topsoil is eroding about 10 times faster than it can be replaced. At this rate, the world may run out of its entire topsoil cover in about 60 years.

3. Rare-Earth Metals

Rare Earth metals are a class of elements that power modern gadgets, like mobile phones, television, cars, wind turbines, etc. The Japanese refer to them as the ‘seeds of technology’, as all of them – like indium, tellurium, rhodium and others – are essential for making our gadgets smaller, faster, and more efficient. 

Sadly, they suffer the same drawback as many other natural resources on this list – being limited and scarce in quantity. Many rare Earth elements are on the verge of complete depletion with no other known deposits anywhere. China, the largest producer of rare Earth minerals, recently estimated that at this rate of consumption, its rare Earth metal mines will run dry in less than 20 years. Some of those metals – like indium – are so over-mined that they may not even last 10 years!

2. Water

water in the desert

Water is easily the most abundant natural substance on Earth, as about two-thirds of its surface is covered in the stuff, plus all the water stored in smaller streams, rivers, lakes and glaciers. Despite that, however, many parts of the world are currently experiencing an acute shortage of water – a phenomenon that has only become more apparent with all the extreme, heat-related weather events of the past few years.

While it’s true that there’s no real scarcity of water on Earth, most of it is found in the oceans, and desalination on a large scale is still not a feasible option. Most of the freshwater we have is either inaccessible and locked up in geological features like glaciers, or unevenly distributed with high costs of transportation. 

Currently, about 844 million people around the world live without access to clean water – a number that’s only set to grow in the coming years. Combine all that with climate change and it’s projected effects in the next few years, and we’re looking at a future where water would be a much scarcer and valuable resource than it is now. 

1. Storage Space

storage

From the rest of this list, it’s clear that we’re running out of quite a few things. Even if we weren’t, though, there’d still be the problem of storing them. In the past couple of years, storage space has emerged as one of the world’ scarcest and most sought-after commodities. Simply speaking, we no longer have the space to store most things we produce – from food-grain to finished products to oil.

A large part of it is due to the pandemic and subsequent economic slowdowns in countries around the world. As consumer demand for commodities lowered, producers suddenly found themselves with a huge supply of things they didn’t know what to do with. At one point, oil suppliers – as one example – were paying storage facilities around the globe to store their excess oil, as the demand for oil had sharply plummeted in the early days of the pandemic.

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