Water is high up on the list of natural resources we need to live. Unfortunately, due to climate change and other human activities, this precious commodity—that many of us take for granted—is becoming increasingly scarce.
Try and imagine a world without water. Impossible, right? Whilst it may seem plentiful to some, supplies of freshwater are dropping at an alarming rate and the effects are being felt on every continent.
An increase in scarcity
Although we’ve made significant progress in giving an increasing number of people worldwide access to clean water, a 2018 UN report found that some 2 billion people, or roughly a quarter of the world’s population, still suffer from what’s referred to as ‘high water stress’ or a lack of quality water for at least some parts of the year. So, for a lot of people, a world without water isn’t so unimaginable.
Worryingly, due to rising demand and our old friend climate change (note the sarcasm), by 2030 it’s predicted that number will increase so that half the world’s population will suffer from severe water stress. Water stress has a major impact on social development, preventing people from working or accessing education, putting lives at risk from malnutrition, and, as some experts believe, sparking conflicts.
No these aren’t like the ones you might have had on your street as a kid (or adult). In 2017, water was a significant cause of conflicts in 45 countries, notably in Syria. It’s imagery straight out of dystopian science fiction to imagine humans going to war for a reason like this, but it is happening. For this reason, and other security risks such as displacement and even radicalisation, the World Economic Forum ranks the water crisis as one of its top ten global risks over the next ten years.
Intensified by climate change
As we touched upon in our oceans editorial, climate change has a major impact on our water cycle. As the world gets warmer, we’re beginning to see warning signs in the form of severe droughts, floods, and storms. Events like these exacerbate water stress, as we saw in South Africa in last year when they were hit with a months-long drought that put 11 million lives at risk.
Natural solutions work best
OK, enough scary talk, let’s concentrate on solutions. The good news is that communities and countries that are prone to droughts and water shortages are able to implement water-saving measures. Desalination, or converting saltwater into freshwater, is an option for communities by the coast, and in fact this is how Dubai gets most of its water and can have lawns in the desert. But desalination is so energy-intensive some call it “bottled electricity”.
Therefore, it is more beneficial to use natural methods where possible. Improving environmental health around water sources can boost water quality, reliability and bring added benefits to local ecosystems and communities. Reforestation or preventing deforestation, for example, is an effective way to filter and store water and help prevent flooding.
An example of this working well is Madagascar, where the restoration of natural forests rejuvenated water supplies to local communities. Of course, there are plenty more benefits to be had from preserving forests as well!
The main culprits
Limited freshwater is a growing problem the world over and we’ve only skimmed over the surface in this article. It’s in everyone’s interest to preserve water. Not only does this ensure there’s enough to go around, but it also saves money and energy.
Most of our water usage is a result of agriculture. It estimated that it takes 2-5000 litres of water to feed someone for a day depending on their diet. It takes a lot more water to produce meat than it does veggies, so eating less meat is a way we as individuals can help preserve water.
Cotton farming for the fashion industry is a huge consumer of water
Next in line after agriculture is industry. A bugbear of ours, the fashion industry (we’re coming for you), was responsible for turning an entire sea into a dustbowl through cotton farming. As such, buying second hand or clothes made from recycled cotton or sustainable materials like Tencel is a great way to ensure water is preserved in regions that need it.
On a domestic level there are a number of ways we can preserve water. Some effective ways include:
- Turning off the taps when brushing your teeth
- Taking shorter showers
- Putting tap water in the fridge so you don't have to wait for it to run cold (so simple but brilliant!)
- Watering your garden in the morning or evening to reduce water evaporation
- Making sure your washing machine and dishwasher run full loads
- Investing in a low flush toilet
- Reducing food waste and eating less meat
- Buying second-hand or recycled clothes
If you have any questions or fun ideas about this (or anything really) feel free to get in touch with Emilia Cullborg, Editor and Head of Communication & Community Outreach.