Thursday, 21 July 2016

Water Crisis

According to UN report, 1.8 billion people will face absolute water scarcity and 2/3 of the world will be under water stressed conditions by 2025. Water scarcity is when an individual does not have access to safe and affordable water to satisfy her or his needs for drinking, washing or for their day to day life. 

As per World Water Development Report released on World Water Day, there will be a knock down supply of water in sub Saharan Africa and Southeast Asian countries. "Unless the balance between demand and supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water crisis," the report says. 

Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made occurrence. Among the handful factors which lead to water scarcity population growth, industrialization and urbanization are the leading ones. Freshwater on the earth is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.

The data shown below discusses the distribution of water on the earth.


Given that only around 2.5% of the Earth's water is Freshwater. Rest of the water is saline or salt water, mostly found in the oceans. Of the 2.5% of freshwater available for the needs of human life, agriculture, and others, 30.1% is groundwater.

Groundwater is the water stored deep beneath the earth's surface in underground aquifers. Another 68.6% of all freshwater is stored in glaciers and polar caps. Hence only 1.3% of the total freshwater is available on earth in the form of lakes, rivers, and streams upon which human beings and other species rely upon for their biological and economical needs. Again most of the surface water on earth i.e., around 73.1% is found in snow and ice. Surface water found in lakes, rivers and streams accounts for just over another 20%.

Water use has been rapidly growing more than the rate of population growth. Over the last few decades, the rate of demand for water is double the rate of population growth. By 2050, the U.N. projects the global population at 9.1 billion people. 

The most recent WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring program for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) biennial report which aimed towards providing drinking water and basic sanitation under Millennium Development Goal 7 met its target of halving the proportion of such population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation between 1990 and 2015. However, an estimated 780 million still lacked safe drinking water in 2010, and the world is unlikely to meet the MDG sanitation target. 

Around 2,590 farmers in Maharashtra committed suicide in the year 2015. There is no water to drink and to irrigate their fields. The fact remains that severe water stress affecting 1/3 of the world's population is expected to double to 2/3 by 2025 and the people living in river basin areas where the use of water exceeds the supply side will face huge scarcity.

The consensus is that the availability of water will remain same as it is now a days but there will be far more people on the planet which will lead to reduction in the availability of freshwater for all uses and uneven distribution of water across the globe.

The main areas which will have more effect of this are the equatorial regions, which are already among the most water stressed areas. These areas are mostly dependent on rainfall rather than irrigation for agriculture and hence have the risk of crop failure. 

Climate change also has a negative effect on the water supply. Increasing temperatures cause higher evaporation from open freshwater sources which reduce the surface water available for agriculture and household purposes. Some water flows into streams and rivers, taking a greater part of the available water.

FAO estimates that 70% of the world's water is used for agricultural purposes. Water demand is increasing to meet food security in high consumption areas. One recent study revealed that in some places energy production might overtake agriculture as the primary user of water. Burning Our Rivers: The Water Footprint of Electricity, a 2012 report by River Network attempts to summarize what is known about the water footprint of various modes of electrical power production. Electricity production by coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants have exceeded their use of freshwater in U.S., accounting for more than about half of fresh surface water from rivers and lakes.

Few solutions to change the face of this crisis is to first educate the people to change the form of consumption of water. Innovating new water conservation technologies. There has been a lot of work in the world of water conservation, but there is also a lot that needs to be done in order to ensure that not only India but rest of the world is able to conserve water.

Every household should build underground storage for rain water. Recycling of waste water and improving irrigation can help close supply and demand gaps. There is no model in India that shows best ways to tackle the waste water generated through the industrial and domestic sectors. Appropriate pricing of water should be done. According to experts from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), raising prices will help lower waste and pollution.

Governments need to redefine their role and enact better policies and regulations, while improving distribution infrastructures and also addressing pollution of water. Only by changing today’s approach to future water management and water productivity, can we ensure a prosperous future.