Is there enough for everyone?
Historians find that 12 thousand years ago, humans started building agrarian societies and living by the river banks for the rich nutrient-filled agricultural lands and most importantly for the water. The early river bed civilizations respected those rivers -- a billion followers of Hindu faith, still call the mighty river Ganges “mother.”
And yet, due to the lack of understanding and environmental policy coordination, those rivers that once worked as foundations of early civilizations are now dying. Rivers are being obstructed and polluted for agricultural production and industrialization. Economically-perceived less important communities and countries are suffering from lack of water -- a basic human right.
The signs of water stress are now global and the studies performed by Unicef, WHO, and FAO must be taken seriously. Let’s revisit some key environmental and humanitarian challenges around water.
Some 2.2 billion people still do not have access to safe drinking water and the task of providing water for households falls disproportionately to the female population. According to a 2016 Unicef report, women and girls are spending 200 million hours every day collecting water, which is a colossal waste.
Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is water but only 3% of that water is freshwater, meaning, fit for human consumption. Out of that, two thirds of the water is actually locked in frozen glaciers. Due to the population growth and increased usage, the demand for freshwater is increasing by 64 billion cubic metres a year.
Some 4.2 billion people -- more than half of the world -- do not have access to safe sanitation, and 673 million people practice open defecation, meaning they go out on the side of the road, in fields, or bushes. This is contributing to water pollution, which is linked to the demise of countless children due to dysentery linked to unsafe water.
Upon closer observation of water stressed countries, we can conclude that these are mostly the oldest civilizations once known for having an abundance of water. Those areas are still the most densely populated and poor -- water demand management has put them in an alarming situation.
To meet the food demands of large populations, many countries maximize the agricultural production through improved irrigation and substantial usage of fertilizers -- which has taken the groundwater level dangerously lower and has also contaminated the surface water.
The consequences of failing to manage the water demand has been a key contributor to social inequalities.
The water crisis is not felt in the same way in every part of the globe but inability to manage the water demand will have irreversible damage to the climate, which will affect every corner of the world.
This is a human agenda and the world is in serious need for some leadership to organize and tackle the impending water crisis.
Clean water is a human right and it is a global issue and we can start with the following steps in addressing it.
Higher public awareness can change the course. Charging economically disadvantaged populations to fund infrastructures won’t be sustainable in most countries that are in dire need but public awareness can be created by rewarding conservation efforts. Israel recycles 80% of sewage and supplies it for agriculture for example.
Water demand management
Once we learn to value water as it should be, we will understand the demand management of water resources. With due respect to the fact that water is a basic human right and people shouldn’t be penalized for using water bur rather should be rewarded for water conservation.
According to a report from NPR (National Public Radio), 2.1 trillion gallons of water are lost each year just in the US alone due to leaky pipes, broken water mains, and faulty meters. By improving the process of water supply and fixing broken pipes and improving the efficiency of water flows, we can start reducing the usage of water.
Utilizing already present innovations and technologies to find alternative solutions such a reverse osmosis, Electro Dialysis Reversal (EDR), desalinization, nanofiltration, and solar and UV filtration.
Mazher Mir is Adviser to Asean council.