Facing The Freshwater Crisis
Facing The Freshwater Crisis
By Peter Rogers
Global freshwater resources are threatened by rising demands from many quarters.
Growing populations need ever more water for drinking, hygiene, sanitation, food production and industry.
Climate change, meanwhile, is expected to contribute to droughts.
Policymakers need to figure out how to supply water without degrading the natural ecosystems that provide it.
Existing low-tech approaches can help prevent scarcity, as can ways to boost supplies, such as improved methods to desalinate water.
But governments at all levels need to start setting policies and making investments in infrastructure for water conservation now.
A friend of mine lives in a middle-class neighborhood of New Delhi, one of the richest cities in India. Although the area gets a fair amount of rain every year, he wakes in the morning to the blare of a megaphone announcing that freshwater will be available only for the next hour. He rushes to fill the bathtub and other receptacles to last the day. New Delhi’s endemic shortfalls occur largely because water managers decided some years back to divert large amounts from upstream rivers and reservoirs to irrigate crops.
My son, who lives in arid Phoenix, arises to the low, schussing sounds of sprinklers watering verdant suburban lawns and golf courses. Although Phoenix sits amid the Sonoran Desert, he enjoys a virtually unlimited water supply. Politicians there have allowed irrigation water to be shifted away from farming operations to cities and suburbs, while permitting recycled wastewater to be employed for landscaping and other nonpotable applications.
As in New Delhi and Phoenix, policymakers worldwide wield great power over how water resources are managed. Wise use of such power will become increasingly important as the years go by because the world’s demand for freshwater is currently overtaking its ready supply in many places, and this situation shows no sign of abating. That the problem is well-known makes it no less disturbing: today one out of six people, more than a billion, suffer inadequate access to safe freshwater. By 2025, according to data released by the United Nations, the freshwater resources of more than half the countries across the globe will undergo either stress—for example, when people increasingly demand more water than is available or safe for use—or outright shortages. By midcentury as much as three quarters of the earth’s population could face scarcities of freshwater.
Scientists expect water scarcity to become more common in large part because the world’s population is rising and many people are getting richer (thus expanding demand) and because global climate change is exacerbating aridity and reducing supply in many regions. What is more, many water sources are threatened by faulty waste disposal, releases of industrial pollutants, fertilizer runoff and coastal influxes of saltwater into aquifers as groundwater is depleted. Because lack of access to water can lead to starvation, disease, political instability and even armed conflict, failure to take action can have broad and grave consequences.
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As with the climate crisis, we are seeing denial on the part of some people to believe that we are approaching a global water crisis. Some contend that we merely "move" water and therefore there is nothing to be concerned about. However, those who state that are those who live where water is abundant. Tell that to the farmers and fishermen in Kenya and in other countries in Africa where the land becomes more arid as the amount of water to be "moved" lessens due to their water sources continuing to evaporate through lack of infrastructure, wasteful irrigation, and climate change which is perpetuating severe droughts in Ethiopia, Niger, and many parts of the continent which is also contributing to the food crisis they also face.
There is no more time left to argue this point: Freshwater resources in our world are dwindling, and with population on the rise (which is the 400 lb gorilla in the room no one seems to want to recognize) water will be a resource that people have and will fight for and will increasingly be surrendering to multinationals to control it as they seek to control our food and other resources if we do not push governments and other agencies to:
1: Work to put more funds into fixing aging infrastructure that wastes water and funds to bring infrastructure to those places that need it.
2: Sign a global climate change treaty to limit CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change which contributes to droughts, floods, and glacier melt. That should also include more imput from poorer peoples of the world actually experiencing the effects of this crisis, and less control by the World Bank, IMF, and other "new world order" entitities only looking to profit from their tragedy.
3: Educate farmers on proper conservation/irrigation practices in line with the water resources available to them. Drip irrigation as mentioned in this article is the one method I support especially in Africa. Solar water pumps also go a long way in providing water for communities without other infrastructure in a way that is not carbon intensive.
4. Limit building of dams that threaten indigenous peoples and customs as well as diverting water from areas that need it most which also puts marinelife at risk.
5: Only using desalination in extreme circumstances after all other conservation methods have been exhausted. (Just as a point of reference, DOW Chemical is looking to also buy desalination plants so watch for this to be pitched even if it isn't needed, just like "clean coal.") It is simply too carbon intensive and expensive at this time to consider on a wide scale other than in areas that are experiencing severe drought conditions.
6: Have political and moral will to achieve success in conserving this most important resource of life. Water will be one of the defining issues of this century. It should be treated as the important issue it is and people will need to see the part we all play in conserving it.
7: Perhaps the most important step of all: With oil, food, and other resources being controlled by corporations seeking only to profit without truly caring about the consequences, water must be declared a human right so as to keep it a public trust which in turn keeps it available to all people equitably. And we must demand it.
We as a species are at a crossroads in history. How we act now determines the world for generations to come. If we continue to waste water at the pace we are now worldwide we will lead this world into a future of increased tensions, disease, and famine. The first step for many then is connecting the dots and seeing just how important water is to us in our everyday lives. We can live without oil. We cannot live without water.