THE GLOBAL WATER SITUATION
In March 2005, on World Water Day, a decade long initiative called ‘Water for Life’ was started by the United Nations. The World Health Organization, Unicef and the UN identified access to clean water as the most important global crisis of the 21st century.1
Even though the majority of our planet is covered with water, most of it is undrinkable sea water which only leaves less than 1% for residential, agricultural and commercial use.
Within the next 50 years, the world population is expected to grow by another 40-50% and the increasing demand for water will have serious consequences on the environment.2
The increasing population will also become a major factor that is connected to the production of food. Farmers will find it very difficult to meet the world’s food needs as one of the limiting factors will be the amount of water available. Water will also be under significant pressure from a number of other areas including industry and residential needs.
In many parts of the world, such as America and Europe, people take fresh, clean water for granted, but every year more than 1 billion people have no choice but to use potentially harmful water.
More than 5 million people die every year from water-related diseases with 98% of these in the developing world and 90% of these deaths are children.3
However, water scarcity is not limited to the developing world and it affects every continent. In Australia the Snowy River was reduced to approximately 1% of its original flow before action was taken to restore environmental flows. The Aral Sea in Central Asia is the fourth largest inland sea and it will cease to exist within the next decade if changes are not made as it is being used up too quickly for farming. The Colorado River in America has so much water drawn from it for farming that it no longer consistently reaches the sea.4
Water scarcity is a problem that affects everyone and it is among the main problems that many societies will face in the 21st century.
Approximately 1.2 billion people, almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is scarce and another 500 million people are approaching the same situation.
Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and although there is not a global water shortage at present, there are a growing number of regions which are short of water.5
There is actually enough fresh water on the planet for six billion people, but it is currently distributed unevenly and a lot of it is wasted, polluted or unsustainably managed. Thankfully more people are now reassessing their relationship with water and are searching for ways to reduce their consumption and make a difference.