For centuries, humans have disrupted Earth’s water cycle. Rapid urbanization has increased the world’s water demand and consumption, leading to water scarcity. It’s time we face the hard facts about this issue.
The global population increased three-fold over the past 100 years, but water consumption increased six-fold.
1. We Need Water to Live
Without water, farmers cannot grow food (producing one person’s daily caloric intake requires 3,000 litres of water). And without sufficient water, the human body will dehydrate (one person requires 4 litres per day). Water is essential for hygiene and combating disease, sustaining livestock, industrial applications, and more.
2. Water Scarcity Exists Now
The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that 30% of the world’s population (2.1 billion people) lack access to safe water, and 844 million people have no access to water. 263 million people have to travel over 30 minutes to reach water and 159 million people only have access to unprotected and potentially contaminated water.
3. Disproportionate Harm
The average family in an industrial country uses 500 gallons of water daily. The average family in a developing country uses 5 gallons daily. (If all the freshwater in the world was divided equally, we would each receive 3,600 gallons of water daily.)
4. Water Scarcity is Growing
UNESCO estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people—or 22% of the world’s population—will live in a water-scarce area. Furthermore, about 4.1 billion people—half the world’s population—will live in an area where access to freshwater is complicated by excessive demand.
5. Water Scarcity Leads to Refugee Crises
UNESCO has determined that by 2025, 700 million people will become displaced due to water scarcity. These movements of people strain food and water supplies, medical resources, and security.
As the number of people living in water-stressed areas increases, so will the scale of refugee movements.
6. Water Scarcity Leads to Conflicts
Shortages of any resource necessary for life, including water, can lead to conflict. In fact, 60% of surface water on the planet derives from river basins that extend through at least two countries, and nearly 600 of aquifers run across national borders.
7. Water Scarcity Results in a Lack of Sanitation
Removing human waste is essential to reduce the spread of diseases, but it is impossible to do without water. According to the WHO, 33% of the global population — or roughly 2.3 billion people—lack basic sanitation conditions. At least 2 billion people get water from a supply contaminated by waste, resulting in nearly 50% of people in developing countries developing health complications. Approximately 1.6 million people die each year from those complications.
8. Privatization Leads to Water Scarcity
When corporations acquire exclusive rights to a water source, they increase the cost for the commodity and decreasing supply. Typically, water from a privately-owned source costs 60% more than a publicly-owned source. Many corporations also re-direct water away from local needs to produce products for export.
9. Obsolete Infrastructure Aggravates Water Scarcity
Each year, the U.S. loses 2.1 trillion gallons of clean water to its outdated, leaking infrastructure of old pipes and broken mains.
Additionally, deteriorating infrastructure globally results in the loss of 30% of clean water and 80% of wastewater being re-introduced before it has been cleaned.
10. Water Scarcity is a Gendered Crisis
In many places, cultural norms place the burden on women and girls to gather water their families need. According to the Global Water Institute, 90% of water-gathering globally is done by women. In Africa, women spend 40 billion hours a year, walking long distances to find water. Globally, women walk an average of 4 miles per day, or for 6 hours, carrying 44-pounds worth of water to keep their families alive.
11. Aquifers are Running Dry
Underground aquifers are an excellent source of water because of the filtration the soil and rock provides. However, aquifers are being depleted faster than the water cycle can replenish them. Due to over-extraction, 37 of the planet’s largest aquifer systems have water tables below normal levels, and 8 are not recharging at all anymore.
12. Fighting Water Scarcity Requires a Serious Investment
Combatting water scarcity is expensive. Ending the global water crisis will require an investment of $114 billion per year, every year until 2030. The price tag might seem high, but we already spend around $260 billion per year to mitigate medical problems caused by untreated water and insufficient sanitation.
The global water crisis caused by humans is profound. Activities such as damming and bottling have driven down our supply of clean freshwater. At the same time, increase in population, urbanization, and standards of living have driven up our demand for clean water. Unless smart, far-reaching action is taken soon, the water scarcity crisis will become a full-blown catastrophe.