The Water Crisis
In the United States, there is one thing that everyone can count on having: access to water. Anyone can turn on his or her faucet and always expect it to come out; however, the pressing issue of water scarcity in the world is causing many to wonder if this ease of access will remain in the near future. As the human population continues to grow at an exponential rate, so does the water usage. If this trend continues, water may not be available to everyone in the world.
At first glance, water does not seem like something that could run out. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), approximately 71% of the world is made up of water; however, the concern facing society today is not that of all water, but of freshwater. According to the USGS Water Science School, 97% of the world’s water is salt water, 2% is freshwater trapped in ice, and the remaining 1% is drinkable, liquid freshwater. This small usable portion is quickly depleting as more and more people continue to populate the Earth.
Many conservation programs encourage people to reduce their water use with simple tasks like taking shorter showers. While minor tasks like these can make small differences, it does not make a significant impact. According to The World Bank Data, only 8% of the water consumed globally goes to personal use. However, 70% of freshwater in the world is used for agriculture.
One reason why agriculture uses so much water is because water-intensive crops are grown in some of the aridest places in the world. For instance, South Africa, one nation facing a severe water crisis, primarily grows two of the most water draining crops: corn and wheat, according to Brand South Africa. This phenomenon is seen all over the world with grapes being grown in California and wheat grown in arid parts of China. Additionally, most places choose to flood the fields to deliver water to crops, widely considered the most inefficient form of irrigation. These two factors cause much water to go to waste due to the improper use of it.
Due to the high consumption of water, most countries in the world use all rainfall and large majorities of other water sources such as rivers and streams. However, some places are using up these sources at such an extreme rate that they are turning to aquifers, large pools of water that reside underground. Betsy Otto, the director of the World Resources Institute’s Global Water Program, compares aquifers to a savings account. “[Ground water] is okay to draw from, especially when you have a drought, but overuse can deplete it,” described Otto. However, these aquifers have taken thousands of years to fill and will take thousands more to restore. Instead of allowing them to refill, people keep withdrawing from them, thus depleting the amount of worldwide usable water even further.
This water seems so disposable because both the farmers and consumers do not pay for the actual cost of it. According to Kyle MacLachlan of Netflix’s Explained, the cost for a farmer in California who receives his water from the Colorado River does not even cover the cost of transport. Since the cost of water does not affect the farmer, it does not affect the consumer. Many products can be sold so cheaply since water comes with virtually no charge.
Many citizens are unaware of exactly how much water is required to produce their favorite products. For instance, a two-liter bottle of soda requires 34 gallons of water to create according to the World Wildlife Fund. Furthermore, according to the Water Footprint Organization, a pair of jeans takes 2,108 gallons of water to produce, a smartphone requires 3,190 gallons, and one car can take as much as 21,926 gallons. These quantities are attributed to the cost to grow and transport all the products necessary to complete an entire product. Few people concern themselves with these numbers, as they do not bear to cost of the water; however, if trends continue, many consumer goods will skyrocket in cost because of the high price of scarce water.
One reason as to why the water crisis has become so severe is attributed to the fact that it does not seem like a pressing issue for people. This lack of care is because many do not feel the effects of water scarcity. Most people, at least in the United States, always have access to clean, fresh, cheap water. However, this is not the case in some nations. As previously mentioned, South Africa is facing a grave emergency. In Cape Town, South Africa’s second largest city, the water shortage became so extreme that a “Day Zero” was announced for Mar. 18, 2018, according to CBS News. Essentially, this meant all water supplies would be shut down in the city, leaving over three million people without a dependable source of water.
To prevent Day Zero, citizens across the city did their part to reduce water consumption. Additionally, larger organizations in the town found ways to make their water usage more efficient. With these two factors in play, the city of Cape Town announced that they would be able to push back the date of Day Zero by a couple of months. As conservation continued, the date continued to be pushed back. This cycle occurred until the city finally announced that date of Day Zero was pushed back indefinitely.
The example of Cape Town revealed vital information to many. For one, it showed that the possibility of losing access to water was severe, even to major metropolitan areas. However, and more importantly, it showcased that if everyone treated water like the invaluable resource it is, significant crises like the situation in Cape Town could be avoided. Now, many cities across the world are using Cape Town as a lesson to prevent their own Day Zeros from occurring.
Changing how everyone uses water globally will be a significant challenge in the near future, but it is a change that must occur to ensure the security of freshwater in the world. While changing people’s traditional ways of water usage, as well as agricultural practices, will be no easy task to overcome, the benefits it produces protects all people around the world. Everyone can do his or her part to reduce the water of freshwater, one drop at a time.