With increasing population growth, industrialization and urbanization, the world’s fresh water supply is being polluted and depleted faster than ever before. Water scarcity is not just a 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, thus leaving only 4% as fresh water. Within that 4% of fresh water, 68% of it is stored in glaciers and icecaps, 30% stored underground, thus leaving only 2% of fresh water readily available for us to use. 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. For a long time, the developing world has faced a lack of adequate useable water and has suffered from sickness, blocked development, and deepening of inequalities in terms of income and opportunity. 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.
Historically and culturally, this water crisis has a disproportionate effect on women and girls as they have been responsible for water harvesting, which has kept them locked in a cycle of poverty. The global non-profit organization aimed at bringing water and sanitation to the world, Water.org, expresses that women and girls spend an average of 6 hours a day collecting water, which is time taken away from their work and education. 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. When women have access to safe water, they are able to transcend their traditional roles to learn new skills which allow them to experience greater autonomy and independence, thus increasing their quality of life as well.
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, the lack of wastewater treatment and the addition of 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 that there is an opportunity for good health and the ability to help fight disease. 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. Thus, clean water is imperative to improve health, increase dignity, and reduce psychological stress for all people, especially for women and girls. In particular, clean water reduces physical injury from constant lifting and carrying heavy loads of water, as well as the risks of sexual assault and rape.
However, not only do pollutants that leach into aquifers or that are dumped into the oceans affect humans, but it also affects climate change and food chains of other organisms as well. Today, there is the issue of disappearing wetlands, damaged ecosystems and loss of biodiversity which all stems from this water crisis. 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 an 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. Thus, efforts to improve the quantity and quality of water supply leads to poverty alleviation, local empowerment, and ecological protection.
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. If we do not tackle the issue of water scarcity now, the developed world will also be affected as water shortages will curtail economic growth and lower quality of life. We will begin to see a domino-effect of collapse with agriculture, business, society, and government. An article by Arthur Guarino, an assistant professor at Rutgers University Business School, explains that water scarcity will lead to a decline in local commerce, income, tax revenue, employment, and community populations. With agriculture so heavily dependent on water, future drought conditions and the high price of water will threaten crop production, livestock and millions of people. This will cause a food shortage, resulting in regional conflicts, civil unrest and a hindrance to international trade.
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 increases 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.
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-level management. 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.
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 behaviours.