What is Water Scarcity?
Water scarcity or water crisis or water shortage is the deficiency of adequate water resources that can meet the water demands for a particular region. Whenever there is a lack of access to potable and fresh water for drinking and sanitation, the situation means that the water is scarce. Water scarcity thus pertains to a situation where there is water shortage, water crisis, and the lack of access to quality water.
The concept of water scarcity may also refer to the difficulty in obtaining fresh water sources and the deterioration and depletion of the available water sources. Some of the contributing factors to water scarcity are climate change, water overuse, and increased pollution. Many areas around the globe are affected by this phenomenon, and about 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity each and every year.
According to the United Nations (UN) 2013 report on water for life, more than 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. As more people put ever increasing demand on existing water resources, the cost and effort to build or even maintain access to water will increase. With the current consumption rate, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025.
According to ScienceDaily,
“Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region. It already affects every continent and around 2.8 billion people around the world at least one month out of every year.”
Causes of Water Scarcity
- Water Pollution
Water pollution is yet another cause of water scarcity. The sources of water pollution include pesticides and fertilizers that wash away from farms, industrial and human waste that is directly dumped into rivers without treating it in water treatment plant. Oil spill on the ground, waste water leakage from landfills can seep underground and may pollute the groundwater making it unfit for human consumption.
The rapid increase in human population combined by massive growth in industry sector have have transformed water ecosystems and resulted in loss of biodiversity. As population is increasing at an ever increasing rate, the demand for new resources will result in additional pressure on freshwater sources.
Agriculture uses majority of available freshwater. The sad thing is that about 60% of this water gets wasted due to inefficient agriculture methods and leaky irrigation systems. In addition to this, pesticides and fertilizers are washed away in rivers and lakes that further affect human and animal population.
Effects of Water Scarcity
Water is incredibly required to grow crops and to care for livestock animals. It is estimated that the global use of water for irrigation and agriculture is about 70% and that only 10% is utilized for domestic purposes. As a result, water shortage means the practice of growing crops and farming is greatly impacted. For this reason, water scarcity commonly contributes to lower yields and death of animals particularly in the arid and semiarid regions and as such, it results in hunger, poverty, and thirst.
- Poor Heath
In many developing nations, water scarcity forces people to drink water of low quality from flowing streams, majority of which are contaminated. Accordingly, they are infected with water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery that kill people. Water shortage may also mean sewage systems are stagnant which creates room for the build-up of bacteria and harmful insects that result in infections. Besides, sanitation might become chaotic when water is scarce especially in restaurants, clinics, and public places thus compromising the health of the general public.
Access to quality water is fundamental to better living standard and economic growth. Schools, restaurants, hospitals, hotels and other businesses need to stay clean for operations to run effectively. Imagine a situation whereby a major school or hotel goes without water even for a day, the situation can be disastrous and leads to enormous economic losses. Restaurants and shopping malls have to be kept clean to attract visitors. Manufacturing and industrial processes, mining activities, and commercial businesses all need large quantities of water to flourish. Without economic activities because of lack of water, then it means higher poverty levels and poor living standards.
- Habitat Loss and Destruction to Ecosystems
When water is scarce, then it means the natural landscapes suffer the most as it contributes to desertification, lose of plants and death of wildlife and other animals. As a result, these ecological catastrophes create habitat loss that, in turn, leads to food shortages and poor quality of life. For instance, the Aral Sea in Central Asia that used to be the world’s fourth largest freshwater lake has been reduced by more than a third in a period of only three decades. The water is now very salty, and the ecosystems within and around it have been extensively destroyed due to overuse of the water resource, mainly influenced by water scarcity in the region.
- Disappearance of Wetlands
According to WWF, more than half of the planet’s wetlands have lost since 1990 which is largely due to water scarcity. The wetlands have become dry to the point of losing its natural capability to hold water. Human activities are the main contributors because of water overuse, pollution, and interference with the underground aquifers.
Solutions to Water Scarcity
- Recharging aquifers/groundwater
According to a 2012 UN report on The World’s Water, groundwater retraction has tripled in the past five decades because of industrial and agricultural uses. For this reason, governments and organizations can undertake measures to recharge aquifers or groundwater by undertaking projects aimed at infiltrating or injecting excess surface water into the underground aquifers. This may include aspects such as restoration of watersheds and wetlands and the practice of green infrastructure which aims at reducing impervious surfaces.
- Water re-use and Effective Water Treatment Technologies
Water re-use strategies can help alleviate water scarcity in cities, schools, hospitals, and industries. The main strategies here include reuse and recycling and the use of zero-liquid discharge systems. Zero-liquid discharge system is whereby the water within a facility is constantly treated, used and reused again and again without being discharged into the sewer or other external water systems.
The non-potable water (greywater) can be used for washing cars, irrigating landscape, industrial processing and flushing the toilets. Such a system allows the waste water that would have been discarded to become a helpful resource. Water re-use or greywater can hence save a lot of fresh water for human consumption in times of water shortage and water stress.
Desalination is the treatment of saline waters. The treatment process aims at obtaining fresh drinking water from the salty ocean waters or groundwater with high salt concentrations that make them unsuitable for human consumption. Nations should invest in desalination technologies as a means of attaining a more reliable water resource system to meet the ever rising water demands. Desalination can thus offer an incredible solution to fresh water scarcity. However, desalination heavily relies on power-hungry technologies and facilities which should thoroughly be evaluated. Use of greener power sources and energy efficient technologies are recommended.
- Water Management
Water management by the use of regulations and policies can help reduce water scarcity. The regulations and policies can address the water-related problems including aspects such as water reuse, water resource management, water rights, industrial water use, wetland restoration, domestic water supplies, water pollution, and others. In precise, water management has the capability of addressing human interventions and the various natural events in connection with resources and the long-term water policy decisions on the environment and economy.
- Infrastructure Repair and Maintenance
One of the key ways of solving the problem of water scarcity can be through infrastructure repair and maintenance of water channels. Leaking pipes and sewage systems normally lead to water wastage and contamination respectively. If these infrastructures are left unattended to over time, the cumulative effects can create water shortages. Millions of liters of water are lost yearly in various regions of the world owing to leakages and sewer contamination, creating water shortages.
- Water Conservation
Water conservation is one of the leading ways to grow out of water scarcity. It is an indirect approach to reducing water demands and is it usually critical in maintaining the supply-demand balance. During droughts and in densely populated regions, for instance, water conservation efforts ensure there is a supply-demand balance. The approaches can easily be implemented as they involve simple ways of saving water. For water conservation to be effective enough, it has to work hand in hand with water management policies.
Photo by: milpek
What is Water Crisis?
Did you know that only 2.5% of all the water in the world is fresh water? And that only 1% is accessible, by accessible I mean trapped in glaciers and snow fields. We only have real access to 0.0007% of the planets water, that’s all we have to feed and fuel over 6.8 billion people. The lack of clean water is a plague which affects 1.8 billion people every year.
A water crisis is when there is not enough potable water for a population, which in turn leads to drought, famine and death.
Today safe drinking water has become a luxury for people living in drought hit regions and African subcontinent. People can be seen walking miles and spending entire day searching for it. Even if they get it, they have to fight with the water borne diseases arising from it. Economic development suffers when basic necessities are not met and people have to struggle hard for them. Still, we people take it for granted and do not understand the importance of water conservation. Today we will be going over some of the causes, effects and possible solutions for the water crisis.
Clean water and access to food are some of the simplest things that we can take for granted each and every day. In places like Africa, these can be some of the hardest resources to attain if you live in a rural area.
~ Marcus Samuelsson
Causes of Water Crisis
1. Water Pollution – Most of the sources of water in rural areas are terribly polluted due to poor sanitation and lack of waste treatment plants. Overall levels of global pollutants are having a negative effect on the drinking water that is currently clean, as time goes on this damage will be exacerbated.
2. Groundwater over drafting – The excessive use of groundwater in our agricultural industries is leading to diminished yields and wasted water. Over 70% of our water is used to grow crops and most is wasted due to leaky pipes and poor watering techniques.
3. Overuse and misuse of water – This leads to more water being wasted and squandered for pointless reasons and leads to further escalations of the crisis. One single hamburger takes 630 gallons of water to produce!
4. Disease – A large quantity of the available groundwater in the worst effected parts of the world is ridden with disease. Due to the lack of proper water treatment and recycling.
5. Climate change – Climate change is changing the way water evaporates and where it rains, pushing rainfall further south in both hemispheres
6. Mismanagement – Improper training and education leads to needless waste of safe clean water every day, as well as overuse in areas that don’t require so much water.
7. Corruption – Simply put. Some of the people who have the power to help those people in need just don’t care.
8. Lack of institutions – Lesser developed countries have no institutions to advise on water treatment and management, this leads to mismanagement and waste
9. Lack of infrastructure – Poor regions often don’t have the funds or education to implement proper infrastructure such as waste treatment and recycling plants
10. Loss of groundwater – Due to climate change, human expansion and development is leading to loss of groundwater worldwide.
11. Unfair pricing of water – Areas of extreme poverty often have to pay extortionate rates in order to purchase clean water. Those who have no money have to drink from holes in the dirt, or puddles on the roadside.
Effects of Water Crisis
Below are the effects of water crisis on us.
1. Death – All life needs water, every 90 seconds a child dies from water related illness and disease.
2. Disease – Waterborne disease is one of the leading causes of mortality in the world, water related disease affects more than 1.5 billion people each year.
3. Warfare – Regional conflicts have arisen due to the loss of safe water sources.
4. Lack of irrigation – Without water, farmers can’t grow any crops, which leads to the death of nearly 1 million people every year.
5. Lack of sanitation – Which leads to disease, and causes countless health issues and leads of disease.
6. Lack of hygiene – 1/3 of the world’s population lives without access to a toilet. This leads to disease and kills nearly 1 million people each year.
7. Agricultural problems – No water means no crops. Previous regions with a good amount of water have seen a decline in the ground water and without water, they cannot grow crops.
8. Livestock problems – The lack of water leads to the impossibility of keeping livestock, which in turn makes it even harder for people in arid regions to find food and income.
9. Malnutrition – Due to lack of water and the ability to grow crops, malnutrition sets in, increasing the chance of disease and death. 160 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition linked to water and sanitation.
10. Birth defects – Lack of nutrition during pregnancy and malnutrition causes birth defects in infants.
11. Poor education – Most schools in the worst affected areas do not have a toilet or safe drinking water for students, which leaves students dehydrated and mentally incapable of achieving well in schools.
12. Poor Healthcare – Most hospitals and clinics operate without access to safe water, leaving them unable to safely help people.
13. Societal impact – Improvements in society are halted due to a constant need to find water, 5-6 hours every day is spent looking for water on average. Collectively, women and children spend 125 million hours every day collecting water.
Economic effects of water crisis
1. Wasted time – Roughly $24 billion worth of time is wasted each year gathering water.
2. Loss of funds – Ending the water crisis would result in $32 billion in benefits by reducing health care costs and increased productivity.
3. Cost of death – Ending the water crisis would result in $18.5 billion dollars from deaths avoided.
Effects of water crisis on the environment
1. Increased Salinity – Due to poor treatment of water and sanitation. This leads to more water being unsafe to drink.
2. Nutrient pollution – Algal growth caused by excessive nutrients in groundwater is rendering more water being unsafe to drink to high levels of nitrate.
3. Loss of floodplains – Due to human expansion, leads to drying of riverbeds and loss of habitat.
4. Drying of riverbeds – Due to poor agricultural practices and human expansion. Leads to loss of habitat and less water access for poor regions.
5. Loss of habitat – Leading to extinction of species relying on water to survive in arid climates.
6. Subsidence – Caused by the loss of groundwater, leads to landslips and sinkholes.
Solutions to Water Crisis
1. Charities – Donating to a charity will help in a small way, charities help people in rural areas get access to waters by constructing wells, sanitation and agricultural systems.
2. Funding – Governments could allocate more funding toward ending the water crisis, currently the US government donates $8 billion every year, $1 Trillion is needed to solve the problem in the long term.
3. Spreading the message – Educate people better on the causes and effects of the water crisis, as well as what they can do to help. So they in turn can teach others and raise awareness.
4. New technologies – Incentivize innovation in the fields of water recycling, conservation and consumption.
5. Improved irrigation – Change the way we irrigate. Roughly 70% of the world’s freshwater is used to grow crops; we could improve these practices to use much less water than we currently use.
6. Water pricing – Research the true effects of water pricing. Experts are currently debating increasing the price of water to reduce pollution, but that would take water even further out of reach by those experiencing poverty
7. Energy efficient desalination plants – We need to start finding the means to make the current desalination plants more effective. By reducing the energy required to run these plants, we will help millions of people worldwide.
8. Rainwater harvesting – Areas with very little groundwater reserves can greatly improve the way they harvest rainwater by building larger facilities and incorporating better technologies.
9. Address pollution – We, as a species, need to address the ever growing challenge of pollution. Enough studies have been done now, it’s time to take action and quickly, in order to save billions of lives.
10. Population growth control – Until we solve the water crisis, it may be beneficial to limit the expansion of the population. This will lead to more accurate predictions of water needed for the next 100 years.
11. Climate change – Experts say that by decreasing the effects of global warming by pursuing cleaner energies, that will in turn help with the water crises as we find new technologies to keep water safe, and use less energy to do so.
12. Transfer of technologies – More developed countries who have a higher level of technological advancement can help out greatly by sharing their advancement with developing countries.
Image credit: World Bank , Oxfam
Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.
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