There is a water crisis.
Because water covers 70% of our planet, we tend to think water will always be around. But, freshwater is actually quite rare. In fact, only 3% of Earth’s water is freshwater, and most of that is frozen in glaciers or otherwise unattainable.
Because of this, 1.1 billion people around the world don’t have access to fresh water, and another 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity at least one month out of each year. Unsanitary water effects 2.4 billion people—they are unprotected from water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid fever. Two million people die every year from diarrheal diseases.
Additionally, water systems that maintain thriving ecosystems and feed the human population have become strained. Lakes, rivers, and aquifers continue to dry up or become too contaminated for consumption or everyday use.
A staggering fifty percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished. Agriculture consumes, and wastes, more water than any other cause. Changing weather patterns are affecting rain and other sources of water worldwide, creating both droughts and floods.
By 2025, scientists predict that two-thirds of the world’s population could have water shortages and ecosystems around the globe will continue to disintegrate.
All this raises some important questions. What causes water scarcity? Are cities and countries running out of water? What can be done?
We’ll break it down further for you.
What Causes Water Scarcity?
Water scarcity can happen due to two things: physical water scarcity and economic water scarcity. Physical water scarcity is when natural resources don’t meet consumption demands. Economic water scarcity happens with poor management of water resources.
The United Nations Development Program has determined that economic scarcity is more often the case because regions cannot make it accessible. The improvement of water accessibility is the result many countries and governments hope for.
What Is Causing the Water Crisis?
The growing global water crisis has many potential causes:
- Climate change is affecting cloud patterns and depriving many global regions of rainwater.
- Climate change is also increasing rainfall in other areas, creating flood zones that are responsible for loss of homes and ecosystems.
- Population growth has created more water demand, and an additional 2.3 billion people are expected to inhabit the earth by 2050.
- Groundwater is vanishing as the earth’s aquifers are drained all over the world
- Water infrastructure is badly in need of repair, including treatment plants, pipes, and sewer systems all over the world.
- Natural infrastructure is critical for healthy ecosystems, but humans are creating conditions of deforestation, overgrazing, and urbanization.
- Water is being wasted through inefficiency and pollution.
- Globally, water has a cost; costs for cleaning, transport, and dissemination.
- Governments and corporations have no incentive to spend millions creating clean water technologies when water itself is cheaper.
Despite these obstacles, governments, businesses, universities, and private citizens are acknowledging the earth’s water challenges and starting to act. Fresh water alone will not do; public pressure and political will must be harnessed to ensure a sustainable future.
Which Countries and Cities Are Being Hit Hardest?
The water crisis is a global one, and there are multiple countries and cities facing imminent water crises.
São Paulo, Brazil is one of the 10 most populated cities in the world whose main reservoir fell below 4% capacity in 2015. When the crisis peaked, the city of over 21.7 million had less than 20 days of water supply, which led to looting and civil unrest.
The water crisis was declared over in 2016, but in January 2017, the water reserves were 15% below desired levels, creating another potential crisis.
Local officials in Bangalore have been stymied by expansive property developments following Bangalore’s meteoric rise as a tech hub. The result is that city’s water and sewage systems are being maxed out. The city’s antiquated plumbing needs an upgrade as the city loses over 50% of its drinking water to waste.
In 2014, with 20% of the world’s population residing in Beijing, the city had only 7% of the planet’s freshwater. Columbia University researchers estimate that the country’s water reserves were decimated 13% between 2000 and 2009.
Cairo, Egypt was once a great civilization, but its chief asset, the River Nile, is stressed today.
As the source of 97% of Egypt’s water, it is being polluted by untreated residential and agricultural waste. World Health Organization (WHO) data shows Egypt has high levels of water pollution related deaths. By 2025, the country will be critically short of potable water.
Jakarta, Indonesia faces the threat of rising sea levels and direct human action, most frequently, illegally dug wells that are draining the aquifers. Now, approximately 40% of Jakarta is below sea level, according the World Bank. Even worse, the aquifers are not being refilled by the heavy rain because the overabundance of concrete and asphalt keeps open fields from absorbing rainfall.
Moscow, Russia is home to one-quarter of the earth’s fresh water reserves. But, pollution problems beginning in the industrial age of the Soviet era continue to be prevalent. The residents of Moscow are tied to being dependent on surface water for 70% of their use. Most of that water does not meet necessary clean water standards.
Istanbul, Turkey is officially in a water stress zone as the supply has fallen since 2016.Local experts predict a water scarcity as soon as 2030. Recently, populated areas like Istanbul, with its 14 million people, have experienced shortages during drier months, and the reservoir levels continue to decline.
Mexico City, Mexico water shortages are nothing new for its 21 million people. Only 20% get a few hours from their taps each week and a further 20% have running water for partial days. The city is required to import up to 40% of its water and has no recycling processes.
London, England is not a place one thinks of when discussing water crises. However, the average rainfall is only 50% of that of New York and less than the average for Paris. London draws its water from its rivers. But, London is likely to experience water supply issues as soon as 2025.
Tokyo, Japan appreciates precipitation levels like that of Seattle; but, it only falls four months each year. Water is collected during the rainy season to help provide during the drier months. Private and public buildings in Tokyo use rainwater collection systems. Tokyo’s 30+ million people depend 70% on lakes, rivers, and melted snow.
Miami, Florida, USA is one of five US states with heavy rainfall. During the draining of swamps in the early 1900s, water from the Atlantic Ocean contaminated the main aquifer. Even though the problem was discovered in the 1930s, ocean water still leaks into the aquifer.
But, one of the hardest hit areas is Cape Town, South Africa. The causes of Cape Town’s water crisis are under debate. Cape Town is on the verge of approaching Day Zero when they officially run out of water. Day Zero is based on current estimates of water usage, and currently it’s estimated it will occur sometime in 2019. To push the date back as far as possible, city residents are on strict water rations.
The authorities are fighting congestion in the streets and policing fighting in the water queues. The drought is compounded by invasive species sucking up water resources, population growth, poor planning, mismanagement, and lack of development of new resources.
Data shows that 2017 and the years 2015 to 2017 were the driest in Cape Town since the early 1930s. The drought seems to show up once every 84 years. Long-term data estimate a massive drought occurs every 311 years. However, human-caused climate change could be speeding up the drought cycle.
What Is Being Done In Response?
The 2030 Water Resources Group has collected water scarcity solution plans from studies conducted worldwide. Here are a few of the dozens of proposals being attempted around the world.
Waterless Dying Technology in Textile Processing
Textile dyeing uses significant amounts of water and generates extremely polluted water run-off that requires costly treatment before discharge into local rivers. A new dyeing technology, called DyeOx, has been implemented in Taiwan. It uses carbon dioxide rather than water to dye textiles. The process in this case study showed a clean water savings of 8.25 million cubic meters.
Balancing Supply and Demand Through Water Metering
England’s southern and eastern regions have little effective rainfall. These densely populated areas, with an expanding population, could potentially impact climate change that worsens the conditions of an already water-stressed region. In 2010, Southern Water Services Ltd (SWS), started a five-year project of installing 500,000 intelligent meters. A leakage reduction program demonstrated reduced losses are possible.
Institutional Reform for Irrigation Management
This project was set up on the two main canal and branch networks in the Nile Delta. Experts are relining irrigation canals to considerably reduce fresh water leakage. This is in conjunction with governmental reforms and accountability, training, and education of farmers on water management.
Integrated Irrigation Modernization Project
A $700 million public and private modernization project began in 30 states in Mexico to increase competitiveness and efficacy of irrigated agriculture. The project applied a collection of improvements to irrigation infrastructure to increase productivity per unit of water.
There is no doubt that water scarcity is a global issue requiring the cooperation of governments, corporations, scientists, organizations, and citizens worldwide. It will take the effort of multiple agencies to begin a significant use of fresh water recycling technologies as well as policies to reduce consumption during drought conditions.
With the studies and proposals currently in place, as well as those that will be implemented in the near future, there is some hope that our planet will be able to continue to provide fresh water for all its inhabitants.
The Critical Facts You Need To Know About The Clean Water Crisis
Water is essential for life. Not only does it connect every aspect of life, it’s a fundamental human need.
Every person requires at least 20-50 liters of clean, safe water daily for drinking, cleaning, cooking and more. And despite scientific advancements, about 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source, with an estimated 2.5 billion people lacking access to improved sanitation.
That’s more than 35 percent of the earth’s population.
As chef Marcus Samuelsson says:
Clean water and access to food are some of the simplest things that we can take for granted each and every day. In places like Africa, these can be some of the hardest resources to attain if you live in a rural area.
Without clean, potable water, or ways to sanitize water, people are left with dirty, deadly water that can make them seriously ill or have fatal outcomes.
Millions of people find themselves in the midst of a clean water crisis.
Much of the world’s population get their water from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water, and the vast majority of those people are the world’s poorest people.
According to The Nature Conservancy, about half of the world’s 500 most important rivers – the water sources for hundreds of millions of people – are either seriously polluted or seriously depleted. In other words, millions of people have no option but to draw their water from sources that are rampant with pollution.
In this article, we’re going to give you the what, why, and how of the clean water crisis. In order to make a difference, you need knowledge. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is the Clean Water Crisis?
Put simply, the clean water crisis describes the global epidemic of freshwater pollution and depletion. Every single day, people around the world die from a lack of water, lack of access to sanitation, lack of clean and potable waters, and other waterborne diseases.
Freshwater supplies are limited, water sources are vulnerable, and the poor are often disadvantaged in that many of them live in water-deficient countries.
It’s estimated that about 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation and that about 780 million people don’t have access to an improved water source. Even more:
- Approximately 801,000 children younger than 5 years of age perish from diarrhea each year, mostly in developing countries.
- Unsafe drinking water, polluted water used for hygiene, and and inadequate sanitation together contribute to a staggering 88% of deaths from diarrheal diseases.
- Trachoma, the world’s primary cause of preventable blindness, is the result of poor hygiene and sanitation.
Want it put even more starkly? Every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease that could have been prevented simply by providing access to clean water.
As Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme, says:
If 90 school buses filled with kindergartners were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice.
According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the regions with the lowest coverage of sanitation and potable water are sub-Saharan Africa (at about 31 percent), Southern Asia (at about 33 percent), and Easter Asia (at 65 percent).
Why sub-Saharan Africa? The answer is complicated, just as the water crisis is.
First, Africa is a predominantly arid continent, with little rainfall in many areas. Because of this, atmospheric conditions regularly refresh the water supply.
Additionally, many of the freshwater bodies in Africa are controlled and restricted by governments or hopelessly polluted.
Furthermore, the infrastructure required to bring water from the Congo River (the largest supply of freshwater) to the population at large is incredibly expensive. The countries who need this infrastructure most simply can’t afford it.
Finally, the lack of education regarding sanitary and hygienic use of water results in many people consuming filthy water without being aware of the consequences.
The Effects of Contaminated Water
As briefly noted above, unsafe or polluted water doesn’t just account for fatalities. In fact, unsanitary water can cause numerous waterborne diseases that result in millions off deaths every year.
Over 800,000 children under five years old will die from diarrhea each year that’s been contracted from waterborne illnesses. This amounts to waterborne, diarrheal diseases causing a staggering 11% of the 7.6 millions deaths of children under the age of five.
Millions of people worldwide are also infected with Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) through their water sources. These diseases, like Buruli Ulcer, Trachoma, and Guinea Worm Disease, are most often found in areas with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and insufficient hygiene practices.
Make no mistake, however. Drinking, cooking with, showering with, and using contaminated water doesn’t just make people sick: using contaminated water is a dangerous, deadly practice.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 3.4 million people die as a result of water-related diseases. Most of the fatalities are young children who die of illnesses caused by organisms that thrive in water sources contaminated by raw sewage.
Because there’s no access to sanitation and no modern plumbing, human waste often mixes with local water systems, as well as things like animal waste, fertilizers, and industrial by-products. All of this leads to immense pollution of potable water sources.
How Can You Help The Clean Water Crisis?
If you have access to clean, drinkable water, you might feel too far removed from this issue to help bring about change. But that’s not the case. There are dozens of things you can do to help with the clean water crisis.
It’s possible that simply by going about your daily routines, you’re unknowingly contributing of the pollution of our struggling waterways. Educating yourself on how you can change this and what behaviors you can implement to help will go a long way in helping to solve the clean water crisis.
Some simple things to consider are:
- If you have a dog, pick up after him. Animal waste can leak into storm drains and water supplies, polluting the water supply.
- Consider about how you treat your toilets and sinks. Sewage treatment processes can be hugely affected by flushing non-degradable products and by draining paint, oil, or chemical cleaners into sinks.
- Check your faucets and pipes for leaks so as to not waste water, and even check your water meter for hidden leaks. You can even go as far as installing water-saving shower heads and low-flow faucet aerators.
- Other simple things like not letting the faucet run, minimizing garbage disposal units, and taking shorter showers can help conserve clean water, too.
On a larger scale, there are bigger things you can do to help conserve clean water, such as donating to programs that are fighting for clean water in these areas. You can also get involved with these programs and offer your services to help people find access to clean water.
Investing in companies and organizations that are fighting for clean water in these regions can help fund reliable water projects that will serve villages and schools.
The Clean Water Crisis: What it Means
Water is a fundamental human need, and each person needs liters upon liters of clean water daily to survive. Unfortunately, people around the world are suffering from lack of clean, potable water. Bodies of freshwater are constantly being depleted and polluted.
This, in turn, leads to millions of illnesses and fatalities every year. Tens of millions of people are made seriously ill or killed by a host of water-related ailments every single year. The saddest part? These illnesses and deaths could be prevented.
The excessive amounts of microbes and chemicals in freshwater sources make it impossible and dangerous to drink, and the contamination is only getting worse.
Because our freshwater sources are limited, it’s absolutely essential that we learn how to conserve and clean our existing water.
We agree wholeheartedly with the World Health Organization, which noted:
In 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation. Everyone has the right to sufficient, continuous, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.
Clean water is precious. Don’t take it for granted.