With increasing population growth, industrialization and urbanization, the world’s freshwater supply is being polluted and depleted faster than ever before. Hence, water scarcity is not just the lack of safe water, but it is the lack of access to safe water.
Although water covers 71% of our planet, 96% of it is saline water, leaving only 4% as freshwater (Perlman 2016). Within that 4% of freshwater, 68% of it is stored in glaciers and icecaps and 30% is stored underground, therefore, leaving only 2% of freshwater readily available for us to use (Perlman 2016). Even though water may seem abundant, it is actually incredibly rare.
In fact, about 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to safe water and 2.4 billion people have inadequate sanitation (World Wildlife Fund 2017). For a long time, the developing world has faced the affliction of adequate good water and have suffered from the breeding of sickness, blocked development, undermining of survival and deepening of inequalities in terms of income and opportunity (Brooks 2002). Consequently, the developing world not only faces water scarcity, but also economic scarcity, where water requires more resources for access, and physical scarcity, where there just is not enough water (The Water Project 2017).
Historically and culturally, this water crisis has a disproportionate affect on women and girls as they have been responsible for water harvesting; keeping them locked in a cycle of poverty (Brooks 2002). In fact, women and girls spend an average of 6 hours a day collecting water, which is time taken away from their work and education (Water 2017). Thus, the water crisis is very much a women’s issue as well. A critical way to help solve water scarcity is by empowering women. In fact, involving women in water management increases water project effectiveness by 7 times as they help to fuse traditional knowledge with modern technology (Water 2017). When women have access to safe water, they are able to transcend their traditional roles to learn new skills which allows them experience greater autonomy and independence, thus increasing quality of life as well (Water 2017).
Since we now live in a globalized world, all humans are collectively implicated in the issue of water scarcity, not just those who are poor. Additionally, the issue of water scarcity affects the developed world as well, since there are water shortages which curtail economic growth and lower quality of life (Brooks 2002). These issues may seem trivial compared to those of the developing world, however, they still have huge implications on billions of lives.
Water scarcity exists largely due to new technologies in our society as we are extracting water supplies much faster than the rate of replenishment or recharge. Rivers, lakes and aquifers are all becoming increasingly stressed, if not, beginning to dry up. We use water to drink, bathe, cook, irrigate, clean and so much more. With population increase and industrialization, water is exponentially in demand. Thus, predictions state that by 2025, about two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages due to the demand to feed more, shelter more, clothe more and accommodate more (World Wildlife Fund 2017).
Not only is there an issue of the quantity of water, but also the quality. Pollution, in terms of pesticides and fertilizers from the agricultural industry and the lack of wastewater treatment and other industrial wastes like oil, has put water in immediate danger. Therefore, the water crisis can also be considered to be a health crisis. Safe water and access to sanitation means there is opportunity for good health and the ability to help fight disease (Water 2017). Developing nations are more at risk of pandemic effects as they face the dual problem of having vulnerable populations and limited resources to respond to viruses (UN Secretary-General, WHO Director-General 2009). Thus, clean water is imperative to improve health, increase dignity, and reduce psychological stress for all people, especially for women and girls (Water 2017). In addition, clean water also reduces physical injury from the constant lifting and carrying heavy loads of water (Water, 2017). Furthermore, women in developing nations suffer high risks of sexual assult and rape, however without having to travel to remote regions to collect water or relieve themselves, they reduce this risk (Water 2017).
However, not only do pollutants that leach into aquifers or that are dumped into the oceans affect humans, it also affects climate change and food chains of other organisms as well (World Wildlife Fund 2017). Today, there is the issue of disappearing wetlands, damaged ecosystems and loss of biodiversity which all stems from this water crisis (World Wildlife Fund 2017). Water connects all life together as it provides us sustenance. There is no other resource to replace water, thus its scarcity has huge implications on the entire biosphere.
By improving water scarcity conditions, there is improvement in education, health, hunger, poverty, and the environment. Specifically focusing on developing nations, children are freed from water gathering to go to school with proper latrines, there is a decrease in the spread of disease resulting in the ability to work, there is less crop loss so hunger is reduced due to food security, and lastly there is access to water helps to break the cycle of poverty (World Wildlife Fund 2017). Thus, efforts to improve the quantity and quality of water supply leads to poverty alleviation, local empowerment, and ecological protection (Brooks 2002).
Sustainable change in terms of water scarcity happens through making positive conscious decisions in our everyday lives, but also through sound water management by national, regional and international governments with local management (Brooks 2002). Local water management is essential to creating a change for water scarcity. It permits a democratizing decentralization of decisions and accountability, it empowers people to take part in the decisions that define their own futures, and it encourages the integration of traditional knowledge with innovative science to promote fair and efficient supply management of water (Brooks 2002).
Overall, the problem of water scarcity is a growing one. There is a continuous demand on the limited supply of water, so the cost and effort to build or even maintain access to water will also increase. Water scarcity transcends the boundaries of ethnicity, privilege, and international borders to affect us all. Ignorance and indifference towards foreign tribulations are no longer an option for us in the present age as water scarcity is a shared problem for all nations in all continents. It is important for us now to allocate our energy and resources to create a sustainable change through accountability, donating to organizations to make water more accessible, and by making conscious decisions in our daily behaviors.
Brooks, D. B. (2002). Water local-level management. Ottawa, ON: International Development Research Centre.
Perlman, H. (2016, December 2). How much water is there on, in, and above the Earth? Retrieved November 15, 2017, from https://water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html
The Water Project. (2017). Global Water Shortage: Water Scarcity & The Importance of Water. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from https://thewaterproject.org/water-scarcity/
Water. (2017). Water Crisis – Learn About The Global Water Crisis. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/
World Wildlife Fund. (2017). Water Scarcity. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity
*Disclaimer: Featured image is not mine. Retrieved here.