For many countries, fresh water availability is an acute concern. According to the United Nations, close to 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, already live in areas where freshwater is scarce. Another 1.6 billion people face chronic economic water shortage – lacking the needed infrastructure to access available water resources.
The reasons for water scarcity vary. In some regions, it is the sheer number of people in one location that is triggering the deficiency. In others, it is rising sea levels due to the effects of climate change. Regions with once expansive bodies of water, such as China’s Yangtze Delta and Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, now too suffer from direct impacts of climate change, including reduction in size and contaminated underground freshwater supplies further leading to scarce water supply.
In some environments, it is a particular industry, such as global cotton production, that plays a significant role in the growing issue. Reports show cotton production requires about 10,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton — accounting for more than 3% of water consumed across all crop production.
Water-intensive agriculture also poses a threat to local water supplies, causing some rivers, such as the Colorado and the Indus, to no longer even reach the ocean. Because of this, over 1 billion people have no access to clean drinking water and 2 million people die annually from water-related diseases.
The World Economic Forum calls water scarcity “one of the most tangible and fastest growing social, political and economic challenges faced today.” But the reality remains that most of these grave concerns are occurring in the developing world and therefore not of immediate concern to industrialized nations and international media.
However, the developed world has caused many of today’s problems that are exacerbating today’s crisis. We buy and consume products that require enormous amounts of fresh water. The pound of beef cooked for dinner took nearly 1,800 gallons of water to produce, while the gallon of wine enjoyed alongside that meal took up to 1,000 gallons of water to make, most for irrigation. On top of this, many of these products are further contributing to climate change through the burning of fossil fuels.
Clearly, something needs to change.
But what and how do we change? And do we have the necessary tools to help us value water properly across the globe? These are just some of the questions that need to be asked in homes across the world.