Are We Running Out of Water? World Water Crisis 101 (Part 1)
Care2 Earth Month: Back to Basics
This year, Care2 decided to expand Earth Day into Earth Month, since there is so much to explore when it comes to the environment. Every day in April, we‘ll have a post about some of the most important topics for the environment, exploring and explaining the basics. It‘s a great tool to help you get started with helping the environment - or help explain it to others. See the whole series here.
All the Water on Earth
Ours is often referred to as the blue planet because 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Yet, scientists and public officials predict a global water crisis within the next few decades. Worldwide 2.7 billion people are currently affected by water shortages and, by 2025, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.
There are two primary components of water availability: quantity and quality.
- Insufficient supplies mean not enough water for drinking, washing, agriculture.
- Insufficient quality spreads disease and threatens the health of both people and ecosystems.
Quantity: The Earth‘s Drinkable Freshwater Supply is Limited
Only 2.5 percent of the water on earth is theoretically drinkable and the vast majority of that freshwater is inaccessible, either deep below the earth’s surface or in glaciers and snowfields at the poles. As climate change shifts rainfall and drought patterns around the world, more and more people are living in water stressed conditions.
According to the WorldWatch Institute, “some 20 percent of the increase in water scarcity in the coming decades will be caused by climate change … In poor countries, the consequences of climate change could be dire – erratic weather patterns have already been the primary cause of famine for millions around the world.”
Water Scarcity Around the World
China – Chronic drought in north China is pushing the Gobi Desert into farmland that feeds China’s megacities Beijing and Tianjin and the Yellow River, “the so-called birthplace of Chinese civilization, is so polluted it can no longer supply drinking water.”
Africa – In sub-Saharan Africa, only 61 percent of inhabitants have access to safe drinking water sources. This compares with 90 percent or more in Latin America and the Caribbean, northern Africa, and large parts of Asia. In poorer countries, lack of water access is often due to lack of infrastructure. While much wealthier than most sub-Saharan countries, Egypt still suffers from water scarcity. The country imports more than half of its food because it does not have enough water to grow it domestically.
Island Nations – Drinking water is one of the many climate change concerns of island nations. On the Pacific Island of Tuvlala, water was rationed to just two buckets a day during a prolonged drought in 2011. During the worst of the drought, New Zealand and Australia provided “rehydration packets” to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
Australia – But Australia has its own water woes. Climate change may be intensifying the continent’s natural drought cycle. At the same time, extreme weather events such as last fall’s record flooding that inundated Melbourne may become more frequent.
United States – The water level in the Ogaliala Aquafer, groundwater that feeds wells in Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, has been dropping every level, more than 150 feet in some places. Agricultural communities that depend on the aquifer to irrigate crops are under immense strain, with some nearly collapsing already. In other regions, record droughts in Florida and Texas threatens agriculture that supplies the whole nation with food.
Quality: Abuse of a Common Resource
Centuries of assuming that dilution is the solution to pollution has taken a toll on world waters.
U.S. Water Pollution Facts
- In 2010 alone, Industrial polluters dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals in to U.S. waterways.
- According to American Rivers, “eighty percent of sampled streams in a national clean water survey contained drugs, hormones, pesticides, or other chemicals. Three-quarters of those streams contained more than one chemical.”
- Those chemicals cycle back around to drinking water. In 2009, the Environmental Working Group published a study showing that 252 million Americans were served by drinking water systems that exceeded recommended safety guidelines for some contaminate at least once during the study period.
Water Pollution Around the World
The story is similar worldwide with 2 million tons of human waste dumped directly into waterways every single day. In developing countries, 70 percent of industrial waste is dumped into rivers and streams that communities depend up on for drinking, washing, watering farms and supplying livestock.
Asian rivers may be the most polluted in the world. “They have three times as many bacteria from human waste as the global average, and 20 times more lead than rivers in industrialized countries.”
Drinking water pollution directly affects more than half the world’s population and each year there are about 250 million cases of water-related diseases, with roughly 5 to 10 million deaths
The Future of Water