The drinking water crisis is a problem that impacts everyone, directly or indirectly, throughout the globe. Humankind’s dependence on clean drinking water is why we should all be worried, because everyone, directly and indirectly, needs fresh water to survive.
Water is essential to all forms of life on our planet and is quite possibly our most valuable resource. Water grows our food, generates our electricity, cools our bodies, and cleans our hands. It quenches our thirst in summer and can be made into smiling snowmen in winter. Water gives us innumerable ways to play and helps us harness strength at magnitudes otherwise not possible for mankind. We simply cannot live without water. Unlike other natural resources similarly depleted and in jeopardy, we cannot adapt our way into a state of living without water. Life depends on it. There is just no substitute for fresh water.
What is the Drinking Water Crisis?
The drinking water crisis is an increasing number of people, globally, do not have access to clean drinking water coupled with a decreasing availability of fresh drinking water. Essentially, the need for fresh water is increasing while the amount of accessible drinking water is decreasing. To make matters worse, other barriers, such as poor water management and economic disparity, are already at play in the prevention of clean water reaching people.
Managing water scarcity is a reality for many regions. Cape Town, South Africa, experienced a severe water crisis in 2018, which very nearly saw it’s 4.4 million residents without water. Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil with 20 million inhabitants, was less than 20 days away from their own water shut-off in 2014. Both cities managed to keep the taps on by implementing harsh water restrictions and receiving emergency water supplies from neighbouring areas. Both Cape Town and Sao Paulo have since had to adapt to new water management practices. Yet, despite these measures, the two urban hubs are still at risk of running out of water despite continually restricting water to their citizens. Sadly, they are not the only areas facing this catastrophe. Other cities around the globe are currently on track to run out of water with Cairo, Jakarta, and Bangalore ranking at the top of the list. Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, and even Miami are at risk too. Clearly, the water crisis is expanding and is a global concern.
Causes of the Water Crisis?
A major factor of the water crisis is the increasing demand for fresh water. Population growth is a main contributor of the increasing demand. On average, our planet is experiencing a population growth rate of just over one percent per annum, which translates to a staggering 83 million additional people, each year. All requiring fresh water. With the demand for water increasing due to population growth, so too is the demand for food; and therefore, agricultural output is increasing. Agriculture, both the growing of crops and raising of livestock, accounts for 70% of the world’s fresh water usage. Not surprisingly, energy demands also rise with population growth. Water is required, at least in part, for almost all energy generation. The energy industry accounts for 15% of earth’s fresh water usage. Simply put, more people on earth means more water is consumed. This increasing need for water has brought us to the dire reality that the current rate of fresh water consumption has become greater than nature’s ability to replace and replenish those resources.
Access to fresh water for sustaining our population’s water needs is declining, despite the demand for water growing. Cities that have been able to rely on annual rains to fill water reservoirs are seeing their reserves become less full each year. Climate change may be responsible for changes in rainfall patterns, resulting in arid regions experiencing prolonged drought conditions and for rainy regions to have greater rainfall. The Catalonia Region of Spain has seen such severe drought conditions that in 2008 they had to import fresh water from France to keep the city of Barcelona from running out of water. Since then, the Catalonia area has seen longer and hotter summers, less rainfall in the winter, and therefore, ensuring fresh drinking water to their citizens is an unending issue. Globally we are seeing a “wet get wetter, dry get dryer” alteration to rainfall.
Pollution, both raw sewage and industrial waste contributes to the decreasing availability of clean drinking water. 844 million people do not have access to drinking water, and over two billion people use a water source contaminated with faeces exposing them to diseases such as dysentery, typhoid fever, diarrhea and polio. Over five hundred thousand die each year from disease as a result of exposure to contaminated water. So many are surrounded by water that they need to use to live yet it’s also becoming their cause of death. Industrial waste dumping has put chemical pollutants into fresh water supplies for decades, causing fresh water sources to become severely contaminated. As manufacturing industries continue to boom, greater amounts of waste are being pumped into rivers, lakes, and oceans, further reducing the quality of fresh water.
Everyone is Affected
If you have not yet felt the effects of the global water crisis directly, you probably have indirectly. If you’ve relied on fresh produce arriving at your grocery store from California’s drought effected crops, you may have seen an uptick in price. As drought conditions worsen, crops in effected areas produce less yields, and prices go up. Energy costs where water is required to make electricity may be starting to increase. Essentially, the cost of anything that relies on access to fresh water for production will see increased prices as water becomes scarcer, creating a rise in the cost of living. If you avoid eating fish because of its high contamination levels or, prefer bottled water over tap water because you don’t quite trust what comes out of the taps, you’ve felt the effects of the water crisis.
Living in a fresh water-rich region is a luxury in today’s water stressed world. And if not managed properly that liquid luxury may slip away just as it has in other parts of the globe, where they are struggling to adapt. Individuals can help prevent further degradation of our water reservoirs by becoming aware of the water crisis and adopting simple water saving strategies. Conserve water, manage waste properly, recycle and compost; all these measures can help start to protect our earth’s lifeblood, water.