How Water Scarcity Could Affect Half The Global Population By 2025
By: Maria Mian
The globe is home to almost 8 billion individuals, all whom greatly depend on one fundamental substance: water. Formally known as H₂O, it is essential for life and a key factor in how the world functions. Although 71% of Earth's surface is covered with water, 700 million (yes, million) people in 43 countries are suffering from water scarcity (7). What is even more alarming is that the distribution of our minimal water resources are significantly uneven, leading to some countries excessively wasting water while others are begging for a drop. This is due to many factors ranging from geographical to industrialization, all of which play a role in which country has access to more freshwater. The top 5 countries that have the most freshwater are: Brazil, Russia, the United States, Canada, and China (1). On the other hand, countries that severely lack access to water include Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, The Republic of Chad, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (1). It is quite clear that divisions in access to water is a crucial issue that affects not only social and economic factors, but also individual health. Although there are many factors that contribute to the global issue of water insecurity, this article will provide a snapshot of three factors, geographical distribution, supply and demand and lack of infrastructure. At the end, we will provide some steps that can be taken to help bridge the gap in freshwater distribution .
Less than 3% of Earth's water is freshwater and even within that three percent the distribution is unbelievable (2). A whopping 69% of Earth’s freshwater is trapped in glaciers and polar ice caps while n 30% is sealed underground in the form of groundwater. Lakes, rivers and swamps are also locations that house freshwater (2). Keeping this information in mind, we can do a quick calculation to find that about 1% or less of the freshwater is left for humans to use for drinking, cooking, hygiene, sanitation, and many other tasks (2). That being said, not every country is situated near a body of freshwater. Countries like Canada and Russia are surrounded by water bodies, while countries in the core of Africa struggle to find an undried stream. Although geographical distribution of freshwater is not within our control, infrastructure can be put into place to combat unequal distribution through dams, pipes and desalination plants.
Supply and Demand
As the world population continues to increase exponentially, the demand for water is increasing proportionally, while the supply itself remains constant. Larger populations lead to increases in water use and urbanization, further adding demand to the already sparse water supply. It has been found that hundreds of millions of people are paralzyed in a cycle of water scarcity and most individuals are residing in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Yemen (3). What is even more alarming is that according to UNICEF, half of the world’s population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025 (which is only 3 years from now!) (6). Although the clock is ticking very quickly, technological developments are advancing at equal speeds. There have been initiatives put forth to develop water desalination plants and aquifers which will help with providing clean drinking water for the millions that need it most (3).
Lack of Infrastructure
Limited infrastructure is another driving factor behind water scarcity. Although developed countries have infrastructure to ensure resources are transported to both rural and urban areas, this is not the case for developing countries. In many developing countries water is not accessible to much of the population, leading to many individuals, often young girls and women, travelling long distances by foot to the nearest water well. An example of a country that is suffering from lack of infrastructure is South Africa. Along with the exponential growth in population coupled with climate change and industrialization, the country's already limited infrastructure cannot keep up with purifying water (4). This has led to much of the population facing water scarcity and many individuals dying due to preventable diseases caused by drinking and using contaminated water (4).
Although this article highlights only a drop of the ocean in regards to factors that contribute to water scarcity, there are many initiatives that we as a global community can develop to help provide water to all. One initiative can be to help develop proper infrastructure for water distribution and desalination in areas that need it most (5). This will help many individuals, who are forced to travel long distances, get clean water in a more efficient manner. Better irrigation practices also need to be developed as a large portion of many countries' water supplies are allocated for farming (5). By developing more competent irrigation methods, more water can be allocated for other uses such as drinking and hygiene. Lastly, the international community needs to come together to build strong, reliable and sustainable plans to end water scarcity globally (5). We need to develop ways to increase our supply of water, whether that be by gathering all the freshwater available, or by converting ocean water into drinkable usable water. It Is quite clear that the world does not lack water, but rather it is inaccessible for many.
This article shows a very small snapshot of the number of factors that contribute to water scarcity. The reality is that this is an urgent global issue that needs to be eliminated as soon as possible, before millions of lives are lost due to scarcity and diseases caused by lack of sanitation. At the end of the article, I hope you, the reader, have added a few more blessings to your list, as you sit comfortably with water gushing from your tap, while others are traveling kilometers by foot in search of a few drops to quench their thirst. Now is the time that we as a global community decide: do we acknowledge the realities of water scarcity, or do we ignore the truth and let future generations scramble for drops of water? The choice is ours, let's make the best one for humanity.
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United Nations. (2014, November 24). Scarcity, decade, Water For Life, 2015, UN-Water, United Nations, MDG, water, sanitation, financing, gender, IWRM, human right, transboundary, cities, quality, food security. United Nations Department Of Economic and Social Affairs. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml