The Global Water Crisis
By: Althea Ocomen
Water is a basic human need.
Without it, survival is not possible. Yet, in 2020, 2.1 billion people still wake up each morning without access to clean water. This means that millions of vulnerable families around the world do not drink, cook, or bathe with clean water. For most rural schools and communities, access to clean water depends on outside NGOs (nonprofit organizations) purchasing or “giving” a well. However, there are millions of schools and communities that do not have access to nonprofit agencies or local government support. We must then ask ourselves: “How can we make water available for all?” Something must change.
Causes of the Global Water Crisis
Climate change is warming the planet, making the world's hottest geographies even more scorching. At the same time, clouds are moving away from the equator toward the poles, due to a climate-change driven phenomenon called Hadley Cell expansion. This deprives equatorial regions like sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Central America of life-giving rainwater.
Having enough water to go around is only the beginning. That water also needs to be transported, treated and discharged around other areas. Around the world, water infrastructure―treatment plants, pipes, and sewer systems―is in a state of disrepair. In the United States, 6 billion gallons of treated water is lost per day from leaky pipes alone. Built infrastructure is notoriously expensive to install and repair, meaning that many localities ignore growing infrastructure issues until disaster strikes, as it did in California earlier this year.
Lastly, although it's true that water is a renewable resource, it's often wasted. Inefficient practices like flood irrigation and water-intensive wet cooling at thermal power plants use more water than necessary. What's more, as we pollute our available water at an alarming rate, we also fail to treat it. About 80 percent of the world's wastewater is discharged back into nature without further treatment or reuse. In many countries, it's cheaper to receive clean drinking water than to treat and dispose of wastewater, which encourages water waste.
Effects on Women & Children
Over 80% of a water-deprived household depend on women for collecting water. The time it takes to walk the average of 3.7 miles for water is time not spent generating income, caring for family, or attending school. Women who are subjected to collecting water are more likely to:
Women and girls bear the greatest burden because in the developing world they are most likely to be responsible for hauling water to their homes. They spend an estimated 200 million hours collecting water every day. The average African woman walks 6 kilometers to haul 40 pounds of water each day. This daily grind saps her energy for other activities and robs her of the opportunity to spend this time with her family or pursue school and income activities to improve their lives.
Girls who attend school until adolescence are more likely to drop out when they start menstruating unless their school has clean water, latrines, sanitary supplies, and hygiene training. Helping young women to manage menstrual health is not just about providing appropriate facilities, but also includes addressing social norms.
At childbirth, lack of sanitation, clean water, and proper hygiene contribute to high rates of disease and death among mothers and newborns in the developing world, especially in impoverished nations. World Vision is accelerating its push to bring clean water, latrines, and hand-washing facilities to more health clinics to assure safer deliveries.
Importance of Water
Access to safe water can protect and save lives, just because it's there. Access to safe water has the power to turn time spent into time saved, when it's close and not hours away. Access to safe water can turn problems into potential: unlocking education, economic prosperity, and improved health. Every human being deserves to define their own future, and water makes that possible.
In rural villages especially, it’s common to find communities that only live off a few water sources. Even if multiple water sources are present, many are inaccessible. Across various continents, you will hear stories similar to that of Huang Dafa, a Chinese village leader that sought to drastically increase the availability of water. His village of Tuanjie suffered from failing plant crops, insufficient wells, and widespread poverty as a result. The small village’s GDP per capita stood at around 33,000 yuan, a stark contrast from the more well-known, flourishing areas of China.
Dropping out of school was not a foreign concept to residents, with many refocusing their energy on supporting their families through agriculture and labor. This was considered the norm, that is until Huang was elected as village chief and set out on an exhaustive mission to build a canal connecting to the Luosi River. The project took an extreme commitment from the community as a whole, with many residents having to donate money and resources to the cause. Huang Dafa had failed in his first attempt at building the canal. Despite this, Dafa persisted, and his efforts have allowed the people of Tuanjie to grow crops and livestock once again.
To only address water scarcity concerns in developing countries is to be willfully ignorant when considering the threats present in developed nations as well. Take Flint, Michigan as an example: an American city that echoes concerns of water pollution to this day. In Flint, the switch of the cities’ water source from a state-wide system to the Flint River, caused severe lead contamination in the water that was supplied to residents.
This was largely due to the city’s inability to treat the water in the river before switching systems, and its negligence in maintaining old pipes. Even with tens of thousands of complaints, officials were late in taking action to rectify the issue, with many continuing to suffer long-term effects from lead exposure such as behavioral issues and learning disabilities. Though the lead levels in the water have dropped into a normal range as of 2020, there is no guarantee that generations ahead of us will be consequence-free.
Aside from issues that are fostered by cities and officials, issues of water scarcity typically relate to climate change and the waste of resources. California continues to see moderate droughts in over half of the state, meaning that lack of rain and dry weather continue to jeopardize resources. The temperatures in cities are predicted to continue increasing, posing more environmental concerns for the future of California’s growing population. With the state being a hub for immigrants, dream-chasers, and entertainment enthusiasts, and standing at a population of 39.51 million, it is no surprise that some resources are scarce.
Residential areas tend to consume the most water for recreational purposes, most of which are ultimately wasted. California has previously had to impose restrictions on using water and continues to crack down on those not following guidelines. In 2022, residents are predicted to be able to use around 50 gallons of water per person in a household each month. Such restrictions incentivize citizens to save water at risk of being fined but also beg questions as to what our future will look like as resources around the world run low.
Evidently, it is no secret that the contrast between developing countries and developed countries are strong in many respects, but environmental concerns seem to have transcended the concept of borders. From China to the United States, there is no true continent that is utterly free from the issues of water scarcity and insecurity.
Similarly, the issue of water scarcity has never been as black and white as it may seem. There is no clear-cut approach to addressing water scarcity but requires a nuanced understanding of how a certain issue has developed in terms of climate and human factors. No matter your economic status, nationality, or lifestyle, taking small measures such as cutting down on water consumption will be far more beneficial to the global community as a whole.
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