The World Water Crisis: Water Scarcity

by Selam Iyasu on February 20, 2014

SelamMy name is Selam Iyasu. When trying to decide on a topic for my blog post, I tried to think of something that genuinely interested me. In doing so, I recalled an experience I had when I went to my parents’ native land–Eritrea.

Located in the horn of Africa, Eritrea is one of the many nations that suffers water scarcity due to drought. A few years ago I visited my family in Eritrea and got a first hand look of how this condition has affected the population. I observed as my family members waited in line to pump water from a well. They pumped the water into their plastic containers an carried them back home for the day’s use. Because of their limited supply, they were very cautious of how they used their water. My grandfather once said to me, “water is the most important thing we need to survive, with out water there is no life.” This experience opened my eyes and made me realize how much we take our clean water for granted.

Hands cupping clean water.

Hands cupping clean water.

Water scarcity is defined as the lack of adequate safe water supply available for the needs of a specific region. Water scarcity can be a result of many different things including climate change, increased pollution, and increased human demand and overuse of water. With growing freshwater use and depletion of usable freshwater resources, water scarcity continues to be a leading environmental health issue. This problem affects every continent and about 2.8 billion people globally at least one month in a year. As a result, over 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water at any given time.

With water covering 70% of our planet, it is easy to believe that water scarcity is not a problem. However, water that is safe to drink, irrigate crops with, and use everyday is limited. Merely 3% of the water in the world is fresh water, 2/3 of which is inaccessible because it is frozen in glaciers. Other fresh water systems that provide for ecosystems such as rivers, lakes and aquifers, are being stressed more and more everyday. In most cases they are polluted or drying up. This leads to the water supply being tainted with water borne illnesses like cholera and typhoid fever. As a result of these contaminations, two million people die every year—most of which are children.

Drastic climate changes also have an immense effect on water supply. As weather patterns continue to change around the world, drought has become a significant problem. A current example of this is seen in California where water officials across the state have been increasing their efforts to promote water conservation due to the severity of dry conditions. While droughts affect some areas by drying up the water supply, other areas are affected in different ways. Some regions are flooded by melting and disappearing glaciers, which affect freshwater supplies downstream. These factors combined, ultimately contribute to a decrease in the amount of water available for agriculture, energy generation, cities and ecosystems around the world.

Water pollution is defined as any chemical, physical or biological change in the quality of water that has a harmful effect on any living thing that drinks, uses, or lives in it. Water pollution is caused by many sources including pesticides and fertilizers that are washed away from farms, untreated human wastewater, and industrial waste. Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s accessible freshwater, but more than half of it is wasted and washed away due to faulty irrigation systems. With such a large quantity of our water used for agriculture, the damage is even greater due to the considerable amount of freshwater pollution from fertilizers and pesticides. In developing countries, 70% of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters, polluting the usable water supply. These practices contribute to many toxins entering our water supply making it unsafe to drink or swim in and causing water borne illnesses. Water pollution is extremely detrimental because clean water provides the base for prosperous communities and ecosystems.

Typically water scarcity can be categorized as a result of either physical or economic water scarcity. Physical scarcity is the result of insufficient natural water resources to meet the demands of a region. This type of scarcity is common in dry and dessert regions of the world. However, when water sources are overused and over managed, physical scarcity can be a man made issue. In contrast, economic scarcity refers to poor management of sufficient water resources.  More often, countries or regions physically have enough water to meet demands, however, they lack the means to provide it in an accessible manner. This lack of organized distribution of water can be addressed quickly and effectively because mainly a lack of compassion and good governance that allows the issue to continue.

Concern regarding water availability increases as freshwater use continues at unsustainable levels.  At the current rate of consumption, this situation will only get worse. Experts have estimated that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may experience water shortages. Consequently, ecosystems around the world will suffer even more. Over the last 50 years, the human population has more than doubled. This rapid growth, along with economic development and industrialization, has distorted water ecosystems world wide and resulted in a massive loss of biodiversity. Water scarcity is both a natural and man-made issue. The earth contains enough fresh water for all 7 billion people, however, it is unevenly distributed and regularly wasted, polluted, and weakly managed. Water is the basis for life therefore we must not take the limited supply we have on this earth for granted.





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