Water may make up 70% of our planet, but it is not as abundant as we think. Freshwater is the water people rely on for daily use, and it is quite rare as only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water.
Water scarcity describes the lack of adequate water to sustain water usage needs in an area. It already impacts on every continent, and about 2.8 billion people worldwide find it hard to get water for at least one month each year. Over 1.2 billion people do not have access to clean water.
Commendable progress has been realized in making safe drinking water accessible to about 2.6 billion people in developing nations between 1990 to 2015. There is still more to be down, however, especially with the rapid urban development witnessed in these countries.
Freshwater and How We Use It
Out of the water on Earth, 97% is in the oceans. The remaining 7% is all we have as freshwater. Nearly 2% of this water is locked up in ice and glaciers at the North and South poles.
The rest of it is mainly groundwater, and a small fraction of it represents the world’s rivers and lakes.
Freshwater lakes have about 87% of the freshwater surface, mostly in the African Great Lakes (29%), Lake Baikal in Russia (22%), North American Great Lakes (21%), and other lakes (14%). Swamps contain most of the remaining balance, while rivers only account for a small amount, with most of it in the Amazon River.
Freshwater is primarily characterized by containing low amounts of dissolved salts and additional dissolved solids. Precipitation from the atmosphere is the primary source of the freshwater we use, mainly in the form of snow, rain, and mist.
Since the freshwater falling as these elements absorb materials from the atmosphere, the rain in industrialized nations will typically be acidic due to dissolved oxides of nitrogen and sulfur.
Freshwater is channeled through plumbing systems across cities for use in households. The average person will rely on this supply for daily things like showering, cooking, washing clothes, drinking, and brushing teeth.
The average American household, for example, utilizes over 300 gallons of this resource every day indoors. Globally, 70% of freshwater is directed towards agriculture, especially in countries that have an agriculturally-based economy.
Main Causes of Water Scarcity
The World Economic Forum recognized water scarcity as among the most significant global risks in regards to potential impact over the subsequent decade in 2019. Half a billion people in the globe deal with water scarcity all year round. Additionally, half of the cities in the world face water scarcity. The causes of water scarcity include:
Population growth has exploded in recent centuries, and over 7 billion people are vying for Earth’s resources. The demand for water for municipal, industrial, domestic, and agricultural needs has subsequently risen. The evacuation of waste materials from the population also demands a lot of water.
Certain geographies have been affected more significantly than others. These areas are typically those with a high population growth rate and fewer water resources coupled with a fairly high population density. Among the water-scarce areas is the MENA region, that is the Middle East and North Africa.
Generally, nations will be recognized as water-scarce if they have less than 1,000 cubic meters of replenishable fresh water available for every person per year. Water stressed countries will have between 1,000 to 1,667 cubic meters for every person per year.
The per capita water availability will fall by half by 2050. Numerous projections reveal that 3.6 billion people will be inhabiting localities with water scarcity or stress by 2035.
The disruption of the water cycle is among the main effects of climate change. Global warming is linked to the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are human-generated. The evidence of global warming effects is startling. The top 20 warmest years ever recorded, for example, have come since 1995.
A lot of the impact on climate change can be seen in the changing patterns of water availability, changing precipitation patterns, and shrinking glaciers. High average temperatures result in warmer air that can hold more water, and new patterns may be characterized by extended dry spells interspersed with short but heavy rainfall and possible flooding.
Climate change has also contributed to severe drought spells, making water resources even more scarce. The elevation of global temperatures has also caused snowpack and mountain glaciers to melt. Glaciers cannot be restored if they melt, which means that areas that relied on them with fresh water will be left with little alternatives.
Depletion of Groundwater
Around 30% of the freshwater on Earth lies deep underground in aquifers. This water is extracted daily for various industrial, farming, and domestic uses, mostly at dangerously unsustainable rates.
One of the most stressed of these aquifers is the Arabian aquifer system, which supplies the most water used in the Arabian Peninsula. One study revealed than ten nations, including Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Jordan are essentially at Ground Zero. Nearly 90% of the water extracted from this aquifer is channeled to agriculture, mostly paid for by oil revenues.
In the US, California’s agriculture heavily relies on the Central Valley aquifer system, which is in danger of depletion because of over-pumping. Irrigation-thirsty crops like almond cause heavy pumping from the aquifer, especially during drought years.
The economic development of such populous countries like India and China means that these countries and their neighbors share aquifer systems at risk of depletion. The Indus basin, for example, serves sections of China, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. Around 300 million people depend on the aquifer mostly for irrigation, which is characterized by unregulated and overused water pumps and subsidized electricity.
Agriculture demands about 92% of the basin’s water. Studies reveal that the water table in some jurisdictions of Pakistan has retreated to as much as 20 feet.
Groundwater withdrawals currently exceed groundwater availability in nearly 20% of Earth’s aquifers, according to research.
Armed Conflict and Instability
Water supply is often impacted by wars, violence, and armed conflict.
In Syria, for example, an extended period of conflict has left populations at risk of diseases because of the disruption of water services. The lack of maintenance of water infrastructure because of insecurity fuels water shortages. Families turn to mobile tankers that supply water to communities, which can get very expensive, particularly for low-income households.
Violence also disrupts the treatment of sewage and the collection of garbage, making populations vulnerable to water-borne diseases.
Most countries have sufficient water to satiate the needs of its population, but the channels of distribution are insufficient in some nations. Water requires to be transported, treated, and distributed, which means that countries need an extensive network of sewer systems, treatment plants, and pipes. This infrastructure is both energy-intensive and costly to install and maintain, and many regions will ignore problems with their infrastructure until disaster strikes.
Water is a renewable resource, although it is wasted in massive amounts across the world. Inefficient practices, such as flood irrigation use more water than is required. Water consumption has especially risen with increased urbanization and lifestyle changes, and as long as populations are not facing water scarcity, they will continue to regard water as an abundant resource.
Populations also pollute water more than they treat it. In most nations, it is cheaper to get clean water than it is to treat and dispose of wastewater, and this encourages water wastage. Around 80% of the wastewater in the world is channeled back into nature without reuse or further treatment.
Agriculture demands about 70% of the planet’s freshwater, but nearly 60% of it is wasted. This mainly occurs due to absorbent irrigation systems and other inefficient application methods. The inefficient use of water is drying out aquifers, lakes, and rivers. Countries that consume large amounts of food like Australia, the US, and China are close to getting to their water resource limits.
The Impact of Water Scarcity
Water scarcity has pretty huge impact on the World’s population.
Over 40% of the global population lives with water scarcity, which represents nearly 3 billion people. The United Nations predicts a future rise in this number, which means that billions of people are increasingly put at risk by inefficient water systems.
Poor communities, particularly those inhabiting rural regions, suffer the largest burden from scarce or unsafe water supply. The Water Project estimates that people dealing with water-borne diseases occupy one-half of the hospital beds in the world.
Contaminated water is often the only alternative for many communities in the world. If there is little water, it is difficult to keeps things hygienic and sanitary. Poor sanitation and contaminated water are associated with the transmission of diseases like hepatitis A, diarrhea, polio, dysentery, and typhoid.
It is estimated that 842,000 people succumb to diarrhea every year, mainly because of consuming unsafe water. In areas where water is scarce, people forego handwashing, which facilitates the spread of infections. In addition to diarrhea, there are other hazards like schistosomiasis, which is caused by parasitic worms present in infected water.
Insufficient water also hampers on the flow of sewage, and insects like mosquitoes breed on dirty water and spread malaria and other infections. If there is little water, places like clinics and restaurants will have inadequate water for cleaning, and it will compromise on the wellness of the staff and the public.
The global population is well on its way to reaching the projected 9.5 billion by 2050, but how will shrinking water resources affect food production?
Water is vital to food security. Crops, as well as livestock, require water to grow. Agriculture is the largest consumer of fresh water, which is needed for irrigation and various production processes. Irrigation alone requires nearly 70% of the water used by humans.
Access to sufficient food in the rural regions heavily relies on the availability of natural resources like water.
By 2030, the food demand is projected to rise by 50% and 70% by 2050. Around 30% of the food cultivated worldwide is lost or wasted annually, and the water used in production is wasted as well.
Agriculture is a resource-intensive process. Producing a kilo of rice, for example, needs around 3,500 liters of water. One kilo of beef will need about 15,000 liters of water. Dietary shifts have caused a surge in water consumption over the last few centuries.
Water shortage translates to lower yields of different crops. Farm animals also suffer when there is little water. In arid and semi-arid areas, lack of access to water often means that populations suffer from malnutrition, hunger, and thirst.
Water access and poverty are inextricably linked, and access to safe water is vital to poverty reduction.
Businesses need consistent sources of clean water for both their staff and consumers. Employers who invest in providing clean water and sufficient sanitation facilities for their employees benefit from a healthy and productive workforce.
The potential of breaking out from the poverty cycle without clean water is quite slim. In areas where water sources are distances away from villages, most of the able-bodied community members spend a lot of time fetching and transporting water. In parts of Africa, for example, the typical container used to carry water is more than 40 pounds when full. This container is often for hours each day, which can be a tasking and arduous journey.
Estimates by the United Nations show that Sub-Saharan Africa loses 40 billion hours every year to collecting water. These hours are the difference between the time to earn a living or not.
Populations impacted by water shortages spend a lot of time dealing with water-borne diseases. These diseases keep communities out of the workforce. Access to water and sanitation facilities also make populations less vulnerable to natural or man-made disasters.
Millions of families around the globe lack the means to give their kids safe water and a toilet at home. Children are often allocated the responsibility of getting water for their families. This burden is mostly shared with their mothers, and children across the world end up spending 200 million hours every day collecting water. This time should instead be spent in school.
The lack of safe water has severe impacts on a student’s attendance rates and academic performance. A student will find it hard to focus in school if they are dealing with hunger or water-borne diseases like diarrhea. Students will also miss class to deal with sick siblings or parents. Schools, on the other hand, cannot implement programs if they cannot deliver water to students and faculty members.
The situation is particularly serious for girls. Girls in water-insecure communities commonly drop out of school once they reach puberty. Girls in such communities often bear the responsibility of collecting water, which further keeps them out of school. In India, for example, if toilets and water were accessible for a mere 1% more girls in secondary schools, the nation’s GDP would increase more than $5 billion.
All these burdens make education less of a priority, which sets up a cycle of poverty and inequality. Without adequate education, there are fewer opportunities to improve one’s life in the future.
Violence and Conflict
Water shortage has been a tool of military conflict and a source of regional dispute over the years. It has caused tribal conflict and border tension, while also being used for political actions, terrorism, and ethnic warfare.
In 2017, water was a primary factor in conflict and violence in at least 45 nations. In Syria, for example, drought has been identified as among the factors that triggered its ongoing civil war. The drought extended from 2006 to 2011 and affected businesses, households, and infrastructure. Families from the countryside moved to the cities as their crops and livestock died. The civil war erupted in 2011, leading to the deaths of thousands of people.
Lake Chad, which serves Niger, Chad, and Nigeria, is constantly a source of conflict between herdsmen and farmers. The Lake was once the world’s sixth-largest Lake, but has since shrunk by over 90% because of drought. Thirty million people depend on the Lake for survival, and they have become susceptible to drought-related effects.
In other parts of nations, water-stress has been exploited by extremist organizations, non-state actors, and insurgents.
Solutions to Water Scarcity
While the statistics on water scarcity can be stark, the issue can be solved. The proposed solutions to water shortage include:
Water infrastructure is a significant ingredient of water management and control. It encompasses all the infrastructure needed to pump, transport, distribute, store, and treat safe water, in addition to the equipment and tools necessary to build them. Such structures include dams, pipes, boreholes, wells, aqueducts, surface-water intakes, and storage tanks.
Infrastructure further encompasses natural infrastructure, where landscape management techniques like sustainable management, conversation, and restoration are harnessed. Improved infrastructure is the key to avoiding water loss and wastage.
Water pollution involves the dumping of contaminants into water systems, and it reduces the amount of clean water available for human consumption. The pollution is done by individuals, households, and industries, who pollute water with chemicals, domestic waste, and other harmful substances. Pollution is also linked to various health-related effects.
Pollution is one of the major triggers of climate change, which in turn triggers global warming. The Earth’s frozen water has been melting at a high rate and causing the rise of ocean levels and subsequent natural disasters. Air pollution, on the other hand, pollutes rainwater, making it acidic and unsafe for use. There is a need to monitor water more keenly and to opt for natural alternatives in place of chemical solutions.
Rainwater harvesting serves as a major source of water in some parts of the world. It is commonly done through the use of a water catchment basin. This water can be used for consumption, even without treatment. In most regions of Africa, this practice is an essential source of water to populations, where they rely on catchment systems from roofs and gutters.
The method is especially ideal in regions where the natural landscape serves as a natural water catchment and allows for the collection of rainwater. Rainwater can be collected in large amounts in such areas and distributed to surrounding communities.
Water is only a renewable resource if natural aquifers are consistently recharged. Artificial groundwater recharging has been identified as an effective way of addressing water shortage in many regions. It can be done directly through spreading basins or injection wells or as a result of such human activities as irrigation and waste disposal. Human-induced recharge and reclaimed wastewater are becoming part of the hydrological cycle of many localities.
Another scarcity solution is aquifer recovery and storage. Recharge is achieved through surface infiltration into unconfined and shallow aquifers. The process has advanced to allow direct injection into deeper aquifers, including systems with poor quality groundwater.
One of the simple solutions to water shortage is awareness and education. Households can conserve water via simple and practical practices like:
- Filling a sink basin with enough water to wash dishes rather than letting the tap run.
- Using a basin to collect the water that drains while we wait for the shower to heat up.
- Flushing toilets when necessary.
- Installing water-saving appliances and fixtures.
- Eliminating leakages in toilets, faucets, and bathtubs.
The masses should not only be educated on the dangers of water shortage, but also on the solutions they can get involved in.
Water credit is a common practice in developing nations, where loans are made available to households and small businesses to boost access to clean water and sanitation. Most of these investments get their financing from governments in addition to public-sector organizations. Microcredit institutions and private organizations have also been involved in areas not adequately served by government programs.
Water credit improves access to safe water through financing water systems like water connections, water purifiers, latrines and toilets, rainwater harvesting systems.
Clean Water Initiatives
Clean water initiatives have been essential players in the provision of water services. Most of these organizations rely on donations to finance water projects in various areas in the world. Such organizations include World Water Council, Charity Water, Save The Water, Water.org, and WaterLex.
More than 1.2 billion in the world deal with water shortage. While water is a renewable resource, it is not accessible in many parts of the world.
Water scarcity impacts the critical sectors in any community, including health, economy, and education. It causes conflicts, hunger, and poverty, among other unfortunate effects.
The solutions to water shortage include awareness, reduced pollution, and large-scale rainwater harvesting.