Water scarcity is a serious problem that could have a major bearing on humanity’s near future.
It is the most integral element of life and the foundation of existence. It would seem that there will never be a scarcity of it. After all, it covers over 70% of our planet. That amount of water cannot just disappear.
What if it can?
It is true that most of the Earth is covered with water. Unfortunately, 97% of this resource is salt water, completely undrinkable for humans and most animals. Most of the fresh water is stored in the glaciers and ice of the Arctic and Antarctic. Consequently, only less than 1% of the world’s water can be considered drinking water. This water is not exclusive to us naturally. We have to share with other organisms, plants, the Earth.
According to UNICEF, more than 40% of the world’s population lacks access to basic sanitation. More than one billion still use poor quality drinking water. Four out of ten people in the world lack access to even a simple toilet. Two out of ten lack access to a source of clean drinking water. Five million people, including 360,000 children under 5 years of age, die each year from diseases associated with drinking poor quality water.
The problem is not only the limited amount of this precious resource but also the constant pressure. The dynamically developing industry and agriculture, the irrational use of water and climate change are main contributors of the problem.
Why is water so special?
Although water is the most common chemical on Earth, it remains the most important. Water is the main component of organisms and is essential for their proper functioning. It takes part in regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients and products of metabolism and in all biochemical reactions taking place in a living organism. In the hierarchy of all life needs of organisms on Earth, it is water that comes first.
The human body consists of about 60% water and completely deprived of access to it. It is not possible to live more than a few days without it.
Why is this happening?
Without water it would be impossible to take in food and absorb its valuable components. Also excreting harmful compounds depends on it.
In addition, this substance, being a part of various body fluids, has a protective function. It covers our brain, eyeballs and the spinal cord. And these are just a few of the reasons.
How addicted are people to water?
According to a report by the Stockholm International Water Institute, to irrigate farmland to produce about 40% of the world’s food, people use nearly 70% of all drinking water resources. Energy production, in turn, uses about 17% of these resources. It can therefore be concluded that in total about 90% of the water we need for life, is used for production and provision of services.
UNESCO, in turn, points out in its report that 78% of professions in the world are dependent on water. These are primarily those engaged in agriculture, fishing and forestry. Moreover, problems in these sectors reduce the number of jobs in other industries. Endangered are first of all transport, food processing and trade.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) together with the World Water Council have determined that by 2050 the human population will have grown to 9 billion. Combined with continued growth in consumption, environmental degradation, and ongoing climate change, may find that not only water resources will be insufficient for this population.
Food will also be in short supply.
When will we start running out of water?
It is estimated that the amount of water returning to the earth in the form of precipitation would be sufficient to meet all human subsistence and economic needs. Unfortunately, this precipitation does not occur uniformly over the Earth’s surface, resulting in the occurrence and continued expansion of areas suffering from drought. Areas between 20 and 45 degrees latitude are particularly vulnerable to desertification, among others areas adjacent to the Sahara, Kalahari, Sonora, Mojave, Atacama.
Currently, the greatest drought disaster is being observed in African countries, symbolised by the disappearance of Lake Chad, which until recently provided water for 20 million people. Bad news is also coming from Asia, where the Yangtze River has reached its lowest level on record, and the mighty Huang Ho River no longer reaches Bohai Bay, due to the use of too much water for the economy. Many other important rivers in Asia may turn into narrow streams when Tibet’s glaciers melt. Australia and Oceania, Europe and the Americas are also facing drought problems.
An additional problem is the continuous and dynamic increase in demand for water, resulting from population growth, and thus the need to produce more food, and the development of technology. Water resources are dwindling. As a result, there is a rapid increase in the number of countries without access to an adequate amount of drinking water (with resources of less than 500 m3 per person per year) – from two countries in 1950 (Malta and Barbados) to as many as a dozen, and in 2040, according to forecasts, even 20.
In Somalia, water is such a precious commodity that it has given rise to the spread of piracy. In Mozambique, the average inhabitant has 10 liters of water per day, which is not enough to meet basic physiological needs, let alone grow crops.
Where to get water from?
We need more and more water, and its already limited resources are constantly shrinking. So What alternatives do we have?
Currently, most governments are reaching for underground resources, which unfortunately only exacerbates the problem.
In many parts of the world, such as Bangkok, Mexico City, and Venice, ground sinking has been observed because of this.
So why not try seawater desalination?
While this solution seems ideal on the surface, it is unfortunately very expensive. Currently, only rich countries like Qatar, or countries completely devoid of potable water like the island of Santorini in Greece, use such technology on a large scale.
Water is therefore an increasingly scarce commodity and all of us, together and individually, should use it in a sustainable way.
If we do not act NOW, the vision of trouble-free access to this unique material may soon become a dream, also in regions that have not had to face the problem of drought so far.
Rita Lisiewicz, BEng
for Insider Release
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