Water/Wastewater

  • Is Water Scarcity Getting Worse?

Is Water Scarcity Getting Worse?

Sep 07 2018 Read 562 Times

Not known as the staff of life for nothing, water is crucial to all aspects of our daily routine. Washing, cleaning, producing energy, growing food and, above all, drinking are cornerstones of the human existence, and as such, access to a supply of clean drinking water should surely be an inalienable human right regardless of location, class or social background.

However, of the world’s 7.6 billion population, over two billion are still without such a basic resource. Even more concerningly, the percentage of those without water is only expected to increase in the future, as a snowballing global population and exacerbated climate change problems contribute to an increasingly thirsty world.

A worrying trend

The UN has set itself the ambitious but entirely achievable goal of allowing everyone in the world access to clean water by 2030. However, the latest Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6) report suggests that not only are we not on track to meet that target, but that things are actually getting worse.

According to the report, which was produced by the UN itself and released this June, the strain we place on the planet is not sustainable, especially with regards to water. If our current habits continue unchecked, then global gross domestic product (GDP) will be compromised by as much as 45% and global grain production could suffer by up to 40% by 2050. Most troublingly of all, the percentage of the total population without access to water could rise to a whopping 52% by the same year.

Most at risk

Those most at risk are residents of urban hotspots in developing countries. At present, India is home to the most people (163 million) without access to clean water, while Ethiopia (60.5 million) and Nigeria (59.5 million) make up the top three. While the latter has seen some improvement in the situation through incentives such as the Ahmadu Bello University water treatment plant, almost a third of all Nigerians are still without this basic necessity of life.

It’s not just the third world which will be in danger going forwards, though. According to the UN report, five of the top 20 cities in the world with the largest urban water deficits by 2050 will be in the United States, with Los Angeles taking top spot. This is largely attributed to the ongoing rapid growth of its population and the extremes of climate change experienced there.

A new approach needed

In order to avoid a nightmare scenario whereby over half of the global population cannot access clean drinking water on demand, a concerted effort from individuals, governments and businesses alike is required. Of course, innovative new methods of water treatment and conservation (such as those currently being employed at Portugal's Algarve water supply and effluent treatment systems) will be key in tackling the deficit, but a change in habits will also be crucial.

“We can address the problem by thinking about technological solutions, but we also have to think about changing our behaviour,” explains Martina Flörke, a leading hydrologist and environmental scientist from Germany. “If we can make clear... that water has value, that it’s an ecosystem service that we use and have to take care of - then we are really thinking about how to adapt.”

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