Water, the lifeblood of the blue planet, the core of every civilization ever existed. But, we have changed this rare chemical. Polluting it with toxins from industries and runoff from agriculture, from draining aquifers to the entire sea, human development, especially industrialization, has wrecked the environment, in just a geological blink of an eye, creating a wide-scale water crisis.
Despite its apparent ubiquity, it is becoming increasingly scarce. 90% of natural disasters are caused by a lack of access to it. More than 10% of humanity lacks access to it. Water issues have triggered wars. In poor countries, women haul it around all day long. Some major cities, including So Paulo and Cape Town, are running low on it.
An unprecedented water crisis has arrived after decades of warnings. With the warming climate and growing population, freshwater resources dwindle. Scientists, activists, and entrepreneurs lead the charge to provide clean water.
But, how severe is this water crisis? What are the main reasons behind the increasing misuse and pollution of water? And, is there any way out?
Correlation Bettwen Climate Change and Water Crisis
Climate change is exaggerating everything happening in relation to water. The increasing imbalance is being felt around the world. For the last two decades, droughts across the globe have devastated more people worldwide than any other natural disaster.
Somalia, for example, was always a drought-prone region. But, the current drought, also called the “The Elder Giant,” has been going on since 2015. Years of drought have killed most of the livestock and drove almost 50% of the population to the verge of famine.
The melting ice caps and glaciers are also reducing the global supply of freshwater. The Himalayas and Ande’s melting glaciers have long provided drinking and agricultural water to one-fifth of the globe. At the same time, the receding snowpack of Eastern Sierras is adversely affecting millions of Californians.
According to the latest finding by NASA, seven areas globally are losing nearly 300 billion tonnes of water every year. Scarce access to water is triggering migration in countries globally, creating millions of climate change refugees in just the past couple of years.
The lack of water is dropping crop yield in central America’s golden triangle. Crippling droughts year after year have left the farmers with only one option, to migrate for a better life.
But, though many claim climate change to be the primary culprit, there is a far more powerful force at work.
The Hiddle Culprit: Farming
70% of all freshwater is deployed in agricultural activity, and it is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial agriculture sucks up a significant amount of water. Draining rivers and streams to irrigate corn to feed cattle. On average, every farm animal needs up to 125,000 gallons of water in its lifetime. Since many of these cattle farms are getting water for free, we are enjoying the cheap meat at the cost of depleting groundwater.
California’s San Joquin Valley is one of the most fertile places on the planet, which now is running out of water. But, depleting groundwater is not a problem confined to the US. Things have gotten south in some of the major parts of the world.
Experts fear that almost half of the world’s population will be living in scarcity of water. Whereas, by 2040, the chances are that most of the world won’t have enough water to keep up with the water demand all year long.
The anti-government protests in Iraq are the best example of the flaring up tensions, resulted from the lack of enough water. Moreover, the world economic forum has listed the looming water crisis amongst the top ten global risks to humanity.
Yet, the main cause of the water crisis isn’t just climate change, and it is rooted in our relationship with water. Even with no chance of survival without water, the UN did not pass the resolution of water being a basic human right until 2010.
Access to water is not the only concern. Poor water quality is another danger hovering around. Nearly 3.5 million people, mostly children, die each year from water-borne diseases. Millions of people lack access to safe, clean water. 1.6 billion gallons of raw sewage and industrial waste is poured into the Ganges, India’s major water body, each day.
This inequitable burden is placed upon the people downstream, surviving with the severely contaminated water. Furthermore, the release of chemicals and contaminants into freshwater has had devastating impacts on the natural world.
Water Crisis: Finding Solutions
Businesses and governments need to identify their drought vulnerabilities and improve resilience. Water conservation and increasing the efficiency of water usage throughout landscapes, city plans, and water infrastructure can help prepare communities for future droughts and upcoming water crises. Furhtrmeo, a drought emergency plan can be created, and farmers can be encouraged to plant drought-resistant crops.
Resilience to drought can also be improved by actions that reduce other stressors, such as deploying green infrastructure for stormwater management (so less power is required from water-intensive plants) and using renewable energy like solar (one that is not reliant on water).
If these measures are combined with attempts to reduce greenhouse gases, they will be most effective at minimizing climate change’s final magnitude. Moreover, there are many solutions that can build agri-climate resilience, like improving soil health and water conservation while also reducing emissions.
At the core of our water crisis is the way we manage and distribute water. If the misuse, wastage, and pollution of freshwater continue, not only will our entire food system be disrupted, but it will also push societies and ecosystems off the verge of no return.