World Water Crisis: >1 out of 6 people lack safe drinking water, 2/3 of world population to suffer fr water shortages by 2025
Everyone is aware of the dangers of peak oil, but peak water is just as, if not more, devastating. The planet's fresh water supply is a precious resource and the rate at which the industrialised world consumes it is always increasing. As such, there is a fear, as with oil, that eventually extraction rates hit a peak and it's only downhill from thereon-in. Staff at the Pacific Institute however have made a disturbing discovery - that the US hit 'peak water' in 1970... and nobody noticed.
• 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, roughly one-sixth of the world's population.
• The average American uses 100 to 175 gallons of water per day.
• The average African Family uses 5 gallons per day.
• It takes 5 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water.
• Almost 70 percent of the available fresh water gets used for irrigation in agriculture.
• More than half of the water used for irrigation leaks, evaporates or runs off.
• It takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce one quarter pound hamburger (just the meat)
• 20 percent of freshwater fish species have been pushed to the edge of extinction from contaminated water.
• Half of the world’s 500 major rivers are seriously depleted or polluted.
• There are more than 300,000 contaminated groundwater sites in the United States.
• The water we drink today is the same water the dinosaurs drank—there is no new water.
Women and Children
• Some 6,000 children die every day from disease associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene - equivalent to 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.
• The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is six kilometers.
• Tens of millions of children cannot go to school as they must fetch water every day. Drop out rates for adolescent girls, who even make it that far, skyrocket once they hit puberty as there are no private sanitation facilities at their schools.
• Half of the world's hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water related illnesses.
• In the past 10 years, diarrhea has killed more children than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II.
• 50 percent of people on earth lack adequate sanitation. Another way to look at it: Nearly half of the world's population fails to receive the level of water services available 2,000 years ago to the citizens of ancient Rome.
• 80 percent of diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water
• Waterborne diseases (the consequence of a combination of lack of clean water supply and inadequate sanitation) cost the Indian economy 73 million working days per year.
• It is estimated that pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis and malaria, which account for 20% of global disease burden, receive less than one percent of total public and private funds devoted to health research.
• If we did nothing other than provide access to clean water, without any other medical intervention, we could save 2 million lives a year.
• The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
• In China, India and Indonesia, twice as many people are dying from diarrheal diseases as from HIV/AIDS.
• The average person in the developing world uses 2.64 gallons of water a day. The average person in the United Kingdom uses 35.66 gallons of water per day. The average person in the United States uses between 100 and 175 gallons every day at home.
• More than 40 million hours are wasted each year in Africa alone from women and children gathering water.
• In 1998, 308,000 people died from war in Africa, but more than two million (six times as many) died from diarrheal disease.
• It is estimated that 5.3 billion people, two-thirds of the world’s population, will suffer from water shortages by 2025.
• Every $1 spent on water and sanitation generates a return of $9 in saved time, increased productivity and reduced health costs in Africa.
-- United Nations Development Program
• Water is a $400 billion dollar global industry; the third largest behind electricity and oil.
• The UN estimates it would cost an additional $30 billion to provide access to safe water to the entire planet. That’s a third of what the world spends in a year on bottled water.
-- CBS News, FLOW
• An estimated 25% of people from cities in developing countries purchase their water from vendors at a significantly higher price than piped water. In some cases, it costs more than a quarter of their household income.
• Due to inadequate sanitation, Nigeria loses $9 billion (20% of its Gross Domestic Product) according to a World Bank study.
The world’s water crisis has many faces. A girl in Africa walks three miles before school to fetch water from a distant well. A teenage boy in China is afflicted with terrible skin lesions because his village well is contaminated with arsenic.
Impoverished slum dwellers in Angola draw drinking water from the local river where their sewage is dumped. Farmers on the lower reaches of the Colorado River struggle because water has been diverted to cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
According to the United Nations, every day 4,400 children under the age of 5 die around the world, having fallen sick because of unclean water and sanitation. In fact, five times as many children die each year of diarrhea as of HIV/AIDS. A third of the world’s population is enduring some form of water scarcity. One in every six human beings has no access to clean water within a kilometer of their homes. Half of all people in developing countries have no access to proper sanitation. Water is critical for life and for livelihoods. Yet billions of people suffer from disease, poverty and a lack of dignity and opportunity because they have no access to this basic resource.
Why is this so? Access to water is mainly a crisis for the poor. More than two-thirds of those without clean water survive on less than $2 a day. Either poor people are excluded because of a lack of legal rights to claim adequate water, or they fall outside the scope of limited water infrastructure that serves largely the rich.
Water scarcity affects some parts of the world more than others. Today, 800 million people live under a threshold of “water stress.” As rivers dry up, lakes shrink and groundwater reserves get depleted, that figure will rise to 3 billion in 2025, especially in parts of Asia and Africa. There is an urgent need to reduce waste and invest in infrastructure to “harvest” rainwater or increase storage.
Most water use is in agriculture. Farming uses up to 70 times more water than is used for cooking and washing. Many countries have to import more than half their food needs because they do not have enough water to grow more food. If we do not change the way we use water, the amount needed for a rapidly growing world population will double in the next 50 years.
Tthe water crisis hits cities in the rich world as well — Houston and Sydney, for example, are using more water than is replenished. Australia is the world’s driest continent, where increasing salinity in water is threatening agriculture. Large parts of Europe are affected by recurring droughts.
Global warming is another threat. It will be responsible for declining rainfall in some regions, glacial melt in others, and rising sea levels. Other natural disasters occur with more sudden intensity. The floods that affect the Yangtze River in China every year, the hurricane that devastated New Orleans or the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed more than 200,000 people are all examples of the threats that natural events continue to pose for millions around the world.
While the world's population tripled in the 20th century, the use of renewable water resources has grown six-fold. Within the next fifty years, the world population will increase by another 40 to 50 %. This population growth - coupled with industrialization and urbanization - will result in an increasing demand for water and will have serious consequences on the environment.
Already there is more waste water generated and dispersed today than at any other time in the history of our planet: more than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, namely 1.1 billion people, and more than two out of six lack adequate sanitation, namely 2.6 billion people (Estimation for 2002, by the WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2004). 3900 children die every day from water borne diseases (WHO 2004). One must know that these figures represent only people with very poor conditions. In reality, these figures should be much higher.
Although food security has been significantly increased in the past thirty years, water withdrawals for irrigation represent 66 % of the total withdrawals and up to 90 % in arid regions, the other 34 % being used by domestic households (10 %), industry (20 %), or evaporated from reservoirs (4 %). (Source: Shiklomanov, 1999)
As the per capita use increases due to changes in lifestyle and as population increases as well, the proportion of water for human use is increasing. This, coupled with spatial and temporal variations in water availability, means that the water to produce food for human consumption, industrial processes and all the other uses is becoming scarce.
It is all the more critical that increased water use by humans does not only reduce the amount of water available for industrial and agricultural development but has a profound effect on aquatic ecosystems and their dependent species. Environmental balances are disturbed and cannot play their regulating role anymore. (See Water and Nature)
Water stress results from an imbalance between water use and water resources. The water stress indicator in this map measures the proportion of water withdrawal with respect to total renewable resources. It is a criticality ratio, which implies that water stress depends on the variability of resources. Water stress causes deterioration of fresh water resources in terms of quantity (aquifer over-exploitation, dry rivers, etc.) and quality (eutrophication, organic matter pollution, saline intrusion, etc.) The value of this criticality ratio that indicates high water stress is based on expert judgment and experience (Alcamo and others, 1999). It ranges between 20 % for basins with highly variable runoff and 60 % for temperate zone basins. In this map, we take an overall value of 40 % to indicate high water stress. We see that the situation is heterogeneous over the world.
As the resource is becoming scarce, tensions among different users may intensify, both at the national and international level. Over 260 river basins are shared by two or more countries. In the absence of strong institutions and agreements, changes within a basin can lead to transboundary tensions. When major projects proceed without regional collaboration, they can become a point of conflicts, heightening regional instability. The Parana La Plata, the Aral Sea, the Jordan and the Danube may serve as examples. Due to the pressure on the Aral Sea, half of its superficy has disappeared, representing 2/3 of its volume. 36 000 km2 of marin grounds are now recovered by salt.
"There is a water crisis today. But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people - and the environment - suffer badly." World Water Vision Report
With the current state of affairs, correcting measures still can be taken to avoid the crisis to be worsening. There is a increasing awareness that our freshwater resources are limited and need to be protected both in terms of quantity and quality. This water challenge affects not only the water community, but also decision-makers and every human being. "Water is everybody's business" was one the the key messages of the 2nd World Water Forum.
Whatever the use of freshwater (agriculture, industry, domestic use), huge saving of water and improving of water management is possible. Almost everywhere, water is wasted, and as long as people are not facing water scarcity, they believe access to water is an obvious and natural thing. With urbanization and changes in lifestyle, water consumption is bound to increase. However, changes in food habits, for example, may reduce the problem, knowing that growing 1kg of potatoes requires only 100 litres of water, whereas 1 kg of beef requires 13 000 litres.
Images courtesy of GOOD / Column Five, World Water Council, WaterGAP 2.0, and WaterFootPrint.org / WWF
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- Boston Under Water action: International climate day, Oct. 24, 2009; Flooded Iowa: water up to roof