As of 2020, 844 million people still lack clean water…
Water is thought to be the single most renewable resource of the world.
And it is.
However, our growing needs and the uneven distribution of freshwater around the world have put such a stress on this renewable resource that we now face what the UN calls The Global Water Crisis.
The Global Water Crisis explained
Water is plenty on this planet. 97% of it is water. But we cannot consume all of it.
We are left with only 3% to use for agriculture, sanitation, drinking, and making sodas above all other unaccounted uses. Due to an ever-increasing population–the world’s population is soaring past 7.8 billion, mind you–and its ever-growing needs, nearly 1.2 billion people are left with no water at all or they live in areas with physical water scarcity. Meaning, their areas are subjected to arid or semi-arid conditions.
On top of that, the changing weather patterns along with, again, an increase in demand are making things even worse.
So, the Global Water Crisis is the crux of all the problems our freshwater resources, and in turn, we are facing. Those problems are because of human activity.
Nearly 70% of all the fresh water is consumed by our agriculture sectors.
Out of this, only 10% is utilized and 60% goes wasted because of faulty irrigation systems.
If we look at the past 50 years, the human population has slowly migrated toward river basins. Almost 40% of us live in these basins where they indefinitely put a stress on that particular water resource. Not to mention, they also pump more water than needed from the ground aquifers.
As a result, the third-largest aquifer system in the world is being overused. And if it continues, we’d see significant harm to the ecosystems it replenishes. We have seen that before in the form of the shrinking of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan from the 1960s to when it completely shrunk in 2014.
A picture of the overall water footprint (total freshwater consumed and populated by a country) shows a grim reality. According to Nat Geo, 9,087 cubic meters of water per year constitute the footprint of 6 countries. And there are a total of 195 countries if we get real. The real water footprint might be even hard to predict.
Capetown’s “Day Zero”
In 2018, Capetown, the South African capital hit the rock bottom in terms of total running water available. How they reached their peak water limits is easy to guess from their water footprint of 59 billion cubic meters. Of course, 3 years of drought had also played its role.
The Western Cape province premier had warned of such a circumstance and when it came upon the city like a swinging sword, there was no escape. However, thanks to the water rationing, where people were limited to 13 gallons per person per day, and a restriction of flushing water down a toilet or showering daily, they managed a narrow escape.
The risk for this city is still not over. No matter how much they manage their water resources, they won’t be able to use them like they used to.
That’s exactly what could happen to other cities in the world. As of now, 14 out of 20 megacities around the world, including Beijing, Karachi, Mumbai, Delhi, Los Angeles, Istanbul, Cairo, Osaka, Tokyo, London, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and New York, are facing water shortage.
Anyone of these cities could be the next to experience Day Zero if the people don’t act now.
Brain Fagan’s Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind provides us with all the twists and turns of our relationship with water in the past. He narrates and compares the way our ancestors worshiped water to the current state where water is nothing but a commodity.
According to him, past civilizations thrived more when they respected water as an “elixir of life”. They didn’t have centralized water management systems. They didn’t believe in handing over everything to their government. They venerated water; considered it a gift. This respect inevitably translated into better use of their water resources so that they lasted for centuries.
Until industrialization took over between the 1700s to 1800s. In just 100 years, water was consumed to the point that in the last years the first shortage of water was reported.
Things started going down after that.
From droughts alone, more than 11 billion people have died since 1900 and the number is still rising. 1972 was the year when the U.S Clean Water Act was passed that updated the 1948 legislation. In 1993, March 22 was declared as World Water Day to mark the importance of conserving water resources. In 2005, more than 35% of the global population entered into an acute water shortage, which was a staggering increase from 9% in 1960.
Although in 2015, the UN member states signed the Sustainable Development Goals, the number of people devoid of drinking water rose to 2.1 billion in 2018.
These numbers have no end in sight as it seems. The most recent numbers state that nearly 800 children die each day because of poor sanitation. In the near future, the near future, 2050–1 in 4 people will live in one of the worst affected countries. The World Resources Institute puts that number near 17. As much as one-quarter of the human population in these 17 countries will experience the consequences of water shortage. In fact, they are already feeling the tremors.
What to do?
The good news is that 2050 is still far away. We still have a few good years to put to use for a better future. We need to act now if we want a safer world for our future generations – the one that has plenty of water available. If not plenty, at least there’s enough water for everyone.
One way to do that is to help nonprofit organizations. They know how grave the Global Water Crisis is and what lies next. They know how they can utilize their resources and try to change one life at a time in the remotest part of the world. They are water stewards and we need to help them reach their goals.
We always ask ourselves what good we can do as an individual or as a business, but at the same time, we forget that many individuals like us and businesses like ours are making these exact same measures. When those efforts work in unison to help nonprofit water conservation organizations, somewhere someone from a thirsty community takes a glass of water and relishes the elixir of life.