*This article has been updated for accuracy in June, 2020.
“The wars of the next century will be fought over water”. Ismail Serageldin
The other morning I filled a small saucepan with water to boil. Then I realized that if I used the Instant Hot it would take less time to boil. So, I emptied the saucepan and refilled it with hot water. I know! I embarrassed myself that I so cavalierly threw out safe drinking water without a thought. Please don’t tell my children – they would lecture me! I knew immediately I had made a mistake and it got me wondering. How close is the world to running out of water? I thought you might want to know as well, so here’s the answer.
What’s the 411 on the water crisis?
National Geographic reports that while water covers 70% of the earth’s surface, 97% of that is undrinkable because it is salt water. Only 3% of the world’s supply is fresh water, and 77% of that is frozen. Of the 23% not frozen, only .5 of a percent is available to supply the earth’s plants, animals and humans with the water they need to survive. In 1995, World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin said “The wars of the next century will be fought over water”.
Why are we facing a water crisis now?
The earth’s water supply has remained fairly constant over time because it is in a continuous recycle mode through the atmosphere and back into our wells and reservoirs. What has changed over time is the earth’s population, which has exploded. According to the United Nations “water usage has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century.” National Geographic reports that “by 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change.”
People need water to stay alive, and water is necessary for growing food and producing clothing and other essentials. The earth’s rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or being polluted. Climate change and the resulting altering weather patterns are causing floods in some areas and droughts in others.
What’s the situation right now?
The current crisis statistics are as follows: 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to sufficient water, 2.7 billion suffer from water scarcity at least one month a year, and live with inadequate sanitation. Inadequate sanitation is responsible for the spreading of cholera, typhoid fever and other illnesses. Two million people, mostly children, die every year from diarrheal diseases. The water tables are falling in many countries including Northern China, the U.S. and India which will eventually lead to water scarcity and cutbacks in grain harvest.
What will happen if it gets worse?
If the current water consumption isn’t checked, by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages. Here are recommendations that if implemented in time, might save us all from dying from drought.
- Educate water consumers (individuals and corporations) to change their water consumption and lifestyles.
- Recycle wastewater. Singapore is leading in developing technology that cleanses wastewater for other uses.
- Identify and fix leaks. A German utility company is using new software to find leaks in showers, toilets, faucets and the pipes bringing water into residential buildings.
- Raise the price of using water to help lower water consumption, waste and pollution.
- Invest in technology to develop cost-effective desalination plants. Saudi Arabia is developing solar powered desalination plants.
- Reduce corporate water footprints. “Industrial water use accounts for approximately 22% of global consumption.” (circleofblue.org)
The average American uses 70 gallons of water a day. The average Gambian uses 1 gallon, and Europeans are in the middle. 13 gallons is considered an adequate amount of daily water usage for a high standard of living.
Where does our water go?
- 29% for landscaping and lawns
- 19% flushing toilets
- 18% washing machines
- 12% taking showers
- 11% faucets
- 10% leaks
- 2% other
- 1% baths
- 1% dishwashers
(From Environment Magazine, July-August, 2014)
How can we help?
Americans need to start conserving water! In your daily routine, here are ways you can reduce your water consumption:
- Don’t leave the water running while you are brushing your teeth.
- Don’t flush the toilet for a piece of Kleenex! It wastes 5 – 7 gallons.
- Check your pipes, toilets and faucets for leaks.
- Take shorter showers.
- Run the dishwasher and washing machine only for full loads.
- Don’t let the water run while you rinse dishes or vegetables.
- Don’t run the water to let it cool for drinking. Keep a bottle of water in the fridge.
- Mulch your plants and trees to slow the evaporation of water.
- Water the lawn only when it needs it and let your grass grow longer.
- Install low flow toilets and high-efficiency washing machines and dishwashers.
Another ASE article on water and our health;