Shortages of fresh water for human consumption and farming could reach crisis proportions in just 15 years, with a stunning 40% shortfall in fresh (including drinkable) water by 2030, according to a UN Report released today:
Many underground water reserves are already running low, while rainfall patterns are predicted to become more erratic with climate change. As the world's population grows to an expected 9 billion by 2050, more groundwater will be needed for farming, industry and personal consumption.
The report predicts global water demand will increase 55 percent by 2050, while reserves dwindle. If current usage trends don't change, the world will have only 60 percent of the water it needs in 2030, it said.
The United Nations World Water Development Report
) is a comprehensive review of the condition of the world's freshwater supplies. Its purpose is to provide those countries with intelligent and forward-thinking leadership the tools necessary to plan for the implementation of sustainable water usage:
The WWDR is targeted to all those involved in the formulation and implementation of water-related policies and investment strategies, as well as to professionals at all levels. Although it offers a broad global picture, it focuses particularly on the situation in developing countries, where the need for better infrastructure and water governance is highest. With the report, WWAP is aiming to show where systems are failing, and to provide the information needed for efficient and effective capacity-building throughout the world.
Only 3% of all water on Earth is freshwater (the rest, in case you haven't guessed, is saltwater). The impact of Climate Change, existing poor management of water resources, excessive waste of water and the inability of countries which share water sources to cooperate are among the many problems addressed within the UN report. Production of food and agriculture are the largest consumers of water, exceeding personal water consumption one-hundredfold.
Our Earth's anticipated global population growth will require agriculture to produce 60% more food globally by 2050, and as much as 100% more in developing countries. The demand for water by industry
is also expected to skyrocket 400% by 2050 as more and more rapidly developing nations (such as China and India, with huge populations) put pressure on manufacturing to accommodate their population's increasingly "Westernized" lifestyles, lifestyles that the planet is increasingly unable to accomodate:
Having less available water risks catastrophe on many fronts: crops could fail, ecosystems could break down, industries could collapse, disease and poverty could worsen, and violent conflicts over access to water could become more frequent.
"Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit," the annual World Water Development Report said, noting that more efficient use could guarantee enough supply in the future.
Countries like India (and one-half of the human race
) rely almost entirely on groundwater (aquifers, wells) for drinking water. Nearly one-half of all crop irrigation is accomplished from groundwater sources as well. One reason is that over the last few decades most developing countries have allowed nearly all of their surface water to become polluted and undrinkable. The groundwater aquifers, however, are being so over-extracted that nearly one in five are in danger of being completely depleted and/or, as we have seen in this Diary
, infiltrated with saltwater from nearby oceans. Since India's population is now over 1.2 Billion people, making it the second most populous nation on Earth, it's more than appropriate that today's report was issued in New Delhi in advance of March 22, World Water Day.
In the United States thanks in a large part to the Environmental movement in the 1960's and early 70's, and thanks to the Democratic Party which introduced the Clean Water Act (overriding Nixon's veto in 1972), and the lesser-known but equally important Safe Drinking Water Act regulating public water sources, and other Democratic laws passed in the 1970's governing the disposal of waste, we take our clean water for granted. When we stay at a hotel, when we stop at a roadside rest, when we use the water fountain at work, we are fairly confident the water is clean and we won't risk dying from bacteriological infection by drinking it. The rest of the world was not born so fortunate. From the report:
Various estimations of the number of people who use ‘improved’ sources that are not ‘safe’ now exist and these indicate that billions of people do not have access to water that is truly safe....The number of people without ‘safe’ water could be as large as those who do not have access to basic sanitation (about 2.5 billion), for which progress is unsatisfactory by nearly all accounts.
As might be expected, those lower on the socio-economic scale have less access to safe and inexpensive water:
2.1 The water and poverty relationship
A daily struggle for water is one of the terrible burdens of poverty, especially for women and girls who spend endless hours fetching water over long distances. Sources of water are often unclean or unaffordable, or groups are simply cut off from using a particular water source. Many poor urban dwellers have to pay very high water prices to informal water vendors or do without water. Not having sufficient and safe water means constant weakness and pain through recurrent diarrhoea and other debilitating or fatal water related diseases. It leads to loss of time, educational and employment opportunities. Low incomes and limited access to water also means choosing between paying for water, food, school fees or medicines. Around the world, 748 million people lack access to an improved drinking water source, while billions more lack drinking water that is really
safe. In 2012, 2.5 billion people did not have access to an improved sanitation facility (WHO and UNICEF, 2014a).
By 2050 two-thirds of the world's population will be living in cities, increasing the need for safe, potable water exponentially. This "urbanization" of populations will drive the scarcity of water resources, because there simply is no infrastructure to actually get water to the people inhabiting many of these urban areas. Even in heavily urbanized countries we view as "developed" (such as Taiwan and other burgeoning economies) with adequate water infrastructures, one must boil water in order to drink or bathe with it. This is an experience completely foreign to most Americans, who begin to complain almost on cue about lawn-watering restrictions for their semi-arid municipalities and exhortations not to wash their cars every week.
The United States, whose legislative body is currently and for the foreseeable future under the control of anti-U.N., anti-science members of the Republican Party, will probably not heed the report's warning, simply because it is authored by the United Nations. But more acutely affected nations who do not have the luxury of relying on short-sighted fools to develop their public policy may take the lead. Some of the solutions offered by the report involve finding new ways to recycle waste water, improving conservation of water, and perhaps most ominously, raising the price of water. As the report itself notes, there is enough water available for the world's needs, but in order for it to sustain future generations, its management needs to be drastically improved:
The fact is there is enough water available to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared. The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.