Since water is thought to be in infinite supply, we tend to take it for granted. Few of us know how scarce water is. According to UNDP’s Human Development Report 2006, “Water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one-quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).”
According to the report, “Water Resources – Improving Services for the Poor” by International Development Association, The World Bank, it is expected that by 2025, the number of people living in water scarce or water stressed areas will increase to 3.5 billion.
Over the last century alone, water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase. The causes of water scarcity are both natural and man-made. Apparently, there is an adequate supply of freshwater on earth for the entire human population, but it is distributed inequitably, and much of it is either wasted, unfit for consumption or unsustainably managed.
According to the Water Resource Institute, “increasing pollution degrades freshwater and coastal aquatic ecosystems. And climate change is poised to shift precipitation patterns and speed glacial melt, altering water supplies and intensifying floods and drought.”
If you are still not sure how real the global water crisis is, consider the following facts from United Nations:
- 6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people(more than twice the population of United States) are still without
- At least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated
- Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and is projected to rise. Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge
- 4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines
- More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal
- Each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrhoeal diseases
- Hydropower is the most important and widely-used renewable source of energy and as of 2011, represented 16 percent of total electricity production worldwide
- Approximately 70 percent of all water abstracted from rivers, lakes and aquifers are used for irrigation
- Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters
Global Water Distribution
Earth contains 366 quintillion gallons of water. So then you may ask, “why exactly is water scarce?”
- 5% of all water on Earth is salt water, leaving only 2.5% as fresh water
- Nearly 70% of that fresh water is frozen in the icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland; most of the remainder is present as soil moisture or lies in deep underground aquifers as groundwater not accessible to human use.
- Only ~1% of the world’s fresh water is accessible for direct human uses. This is the water found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and those underground sources that are shallow enough to be.
So where does that 1% water go, one might ask. Well, the human race is not quite frugal when it comes to water consumption.
If it takes 37 gallons of water to produce a cup of coffee and 2,700 gallons for a burger, we don’t have a lot of reasons to be surprised about where all that water, which we were told we have plenty of, is ending up.
We all have a role to play in solving the global water crisis. It is not only a problem for the poorest people in the developing countries but the entire human race. For the marginalised, solving this problem in turns breaks the vicious cycle of poverty, disease and safety. It is not only survival and health issue but also an economic issue.
Every drop counts.