What is Water Scarcity?
Water scarcity or water crisis or water shortage is the deficiency of adequate water resources that can meet the water demands for a particular region. Whenever there is a lack of access to potable and fresh water for drinking and sanitation, the situation means that the water is scarce. Water scarcity thus pertains to a situation where there is water shortage, water crisis, and the lack of access to quality water.The concept of water scarcity may also refer to the difficulty in obtaining fresh water sources and the deterioration and depletion of the available water sources. Some of the contributing factors to water scarcity are climate change, water overuse, and increased pollution. Many areas around the globe are affected by this phenomenon, and about 2.7 billion people experience water scarcity each and every year.
According to the United Nations (UN) 2013 report on water for life, more than 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. As more people put ever increasing demand on existing water resources, the cost and effort to build or even maintain access to water will increase. With the current consumption rate, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025.
According to ScienceDaily,
“Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region. It already affects every continent and around 2.8 billion people around the world at least one month out of every year.”
Causes of Water Scarcity
- Water Pollution
Water pollution is yet another cause of water scarcity. The sources of water pollution include pesticides and fertilizers that wash away from farms, industrial and human waste that is directly dumped into rivers without treating it in water treatment plant. Oil spill on the ground, waste water leakage from landfills can seep underground and may pollute the groundwater making it unfit for human consumption.
The rapid increase in human population combined by massive growth in industry sector have have transformed water ecosystems and resulted in loss of biodiversity. As population is increasing at an ever increasing rate, the demand for new resources will result in additional pressure on freshwater sources.
Agriculture uses majority of available freshwater. The sad thing is that about 60% of this water gets wasted due to inefficient agriculture methods and leaky irrigation systems. In addition to this, pesticides and fertilizers are washed away in rivers and lakes that further affect human and animal population.
Effects of Water Scarcity
Water is incredibly required to grow crops and to care for livestock animals. It is estimated that the global use of water for irrigation and agriculture is about 70% and that only 10% is utilized for domestic purposes. As a result, water shortage means the practice of growing crops and farming is greatly impacted. For this reason, water scarcity commonly contributes to lower yields and death of animals particularly in the arid and semiarid regions and as such, it results in hunger, poverty, and thirst.
- Poor Heath
In many developing nations, water scarcity forces people to drink water of low quality from flowing streams, majority of which are contaminated. Accordingly, they are infected with water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery that kill people. Water shortage may also mean sewage systems are stagnant which creates room for the build-up of bacteria and harmful insects that result in infections. Besides, sanitation might become chaotic when water is scarce especially in restaurants, clinics, and public places thus compromising the health of the general public.
Access to quality water is fundamental to better living standard and economic growth. Schools, restaurants, hospitals, hotels and other businesses need to stay clean for operations to run effectively. Imagine a situation whereby a major school or hotel goes without water even for a day, the situation can be disastrous and leads to enormous economic losses. Restaurants and shopping malls have to be kept clean to attract visitors. Manufacturing and industrial processes, mining activities, and commercial businesses all need large quantities of water to flourish. Without economic activities because of lack of water, then it means higher poverty levels and poor living standards.
- Habitat Loss and Destruction to Ecosystems
When water is scarce, then it means the natural landscapes suffer the most as it contributes to desertification, lose of plants and death of wildlife and other animals. As a result, these ecological catastrophes create habitat loss that, in turn, leads to food shortages and poor quality of life. For instance, the Aral Sea in Central Asia that used to be the world’s fourth largest freshwater lake has been reduced by more than a third in a period of only three decades. The water is now very salty, and the ecosystems within and around it have been extensively destroyed due to overuse of the water resource, mainly influenced by water scarcity in the region.
- Disappearance of Wetlands
According to WWF, more than half of the planet’s wetlands have lost since 1990 which is largely due to water scarcity. The wetlands have become dry to the point of losing its natural capability to hold water. Human activities are the main contributors because of water overuse, pollution, and interference with the underground aquifers.
Solutions to Water Scarcity
- Recharging aquifers/groundwater
According to a 2012 UN report on The World’s Water, groundwater retraction has tripled in the past five decades because of industrial and agricultural uses. For this reason, governments and organizations can undertake measures to recharge aquifers or groundwater by undertaking projects aimed at infiltrating or injecting excess surface water into the underground aquifers. This may include aspects such as restoration of watersheds and wetlands and the practice of green infrastructure which aims at reducing impervious surfaces.
- Water re-use and Effective Water Treatment Technologies
Water re-use strategies can help alleviate water scarcity in cities, schools, hospitals, and industries. The main strategies here include reuse and recycling and the use of zero-liquid discharge systems. Zero-liquid discharge system is whereby the water within a facility is constantly treated, used and reused again and again without being discharged into the sewer or other external water systems.
The non-potable water (greywater) can be used for washing cars, irrigating landscape, industrial processing and flushing the toilets. Such a system allows the waste water that would have been discarded to become a helpful resource. Water re-use or greywater can hence save a lot of fresh water for human consumption in times of water shortage and water stress.
Desalination is the treatment of saline waters. The treatment process aims at obtaining fresh drinking water from the salty ocean waters or groundwater with high salt concentrations that make them unsuitable for human consumption. Nations should invest in desalination technologies as a means of attaining a more reliable water resource system to meet the ever rising water demands. Desalination can thus offer an incredible solution to fresh water scarcity. However, desalination heavily relies on power-hungry technologies and facilities which should thoroughly be evaluated. Use of greener power sources and energy efficient technologies are recommended.
- Water Management
Water management by the use of regulations and policies can help reduce water scarcity. The regulations and policies can address the water-related problems including aspects such as water reuse, water resource management, water rights, industrial water use, wetland restoration, domestic water supplies, water pollution, and others. In precise, water management has the capability of addressing human interventions and the various natural events in connection with resources and the long-term water policy decisions on the environment and economy.
- Infrastructure Repair and Maintenance
One of the key ways of solving the problem of water scarcity can be through infrastructure repair and maintenance of water channels. Leaking pipes and sewage systems normally lead to water wastage and contamination respectively. If these infrastructures are left unattended to over time, the cumulative effects can create water shortages. Millions of liters of water are lost yearly in various regions of the world owing to leakages and sewer contamination, creating water shortages.
- Water Conservation
Water conservation is one of the leading ways to grow out of water scarcity. It is an indirect approach to reducing water demands and is it usually critical in maintaining the supply-demand balance. During droughts and in densely populated regions, for instance, water conservation efforts ensure there is a supply-demand balance. The approaches can easily be implemented as they involve simple ways of saving water. For water conservation to be effective enough, it has to work hand in hand with water management policies.
Photo by: milpek
We take a look at the causes, effects and solutions of water shortages worldwide. We also look closely at the problems facing California.
70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, yet only 3% is fit for human consumption. The rest is salty or frozen.
According to a report released by WWF, about 1.1 billion people face water shortage in the world. The report also indicates that 2.7 billion people experience the problem of water shortage in at least one month every year. This implies that the water shortage problem is a real one, which affects around 27% of the world’s population.
With worldwide population increasing at a rate of 1.13% or 80 million people every year, nations need to take action to solve a problem which will only worsen.
Today, we are going to look at the causes, solutions and effects of water shortage. We will also pay special attention to the problems faced closer to home, and more specifically, California. We shall discuss the drought that is currently being experienced there, the effects of this, and what is being done to solve the problem.
So what are the causes of water shortage?
Pollution is a major cause of water shortage. Water is polluted when industrial wastes are deposited into water bodies thus making it unfit for human consumption. Oil spillage and fecal matter also makes the water contaminated. It cannot be used for drinking. This makes it scarce.
2. Overuse of Water
When water is overused, shortage occurs. Some people use too much water especially for irrigation purposes. It therefore becomes inadequate for other equally important uses.
3. Water Wastage
Wastage of water is also a major cause of water shortage. Some people leave their taps running even when they are not fetching water. All this is lost to the ground. The resultant problem is lack of enough water.
When drought strikes an area, there is usually no rain for a long period of time. This makes rivers to dry. Other water sources such as streams, ponds, e.t.c also dry up. People therefore do not have enough water for domestic and industrial use.
Conflict contributes to water shortages in areas. When people are fighting over control of water sources like rivers, some will not have access to it.
In some areas especially arid regions, people stay far away from oasis and other sources of water like boreholes. Traveling there takes a lot of time. It is also a burden to carry water from such distant places to homes. This discourages them from going to fetch water. The result is water shortage.
7. Restriction by Governments
Some governments especially those that govern by dictatorship may restrict citizens from accessing certain water sources.
8. Destruction of Water Catchment Areas
Water catchment areas such as forests are continually being destroyed through deforestation to pave way for human settlement. This problem has been brought about by rapid population increase. As a result, there is not enough rain thus causing water shortage.
What Are the Effects of Water Shortage?
A lack of water affects more than just physical health. Let’s see how drought can affect us in other ways.
– Lack of adequate drinking water
Water is important to our health. When there is shortage, people lack enough clean water to drink.
– Lack of education
When there is water shortage in an area, children often abandon school to help their parents look for water. Some of them grow too weak to go to school.
Water shortage makes it difficult to grow crops especially in dry areas that depend on irrigation. When crops are not planted, there won’t be enough food for people.
– Diseases and Parasites
Water is used for different domestic purposes including bathing. When there is shortage, people may not bath. Their bodies will be dirty hence susceptible to infection by diseases and attack by parasites.
– Sanitation Problems
Lack of enough water makes cleaning of dishes, clothes and other household items difficult. They will remain dirty and unhygienic. This will have a negative effect on the health of an individual.
What About the Solutions?
We’ve discussed the causes, and mentioned some of the effects. But more importantly, how can we act to prevent water shortages? The solutions are simple, but often affected by bureaucracy and vested interests of big business and government.
– People should be educated on the benefits of conserving water.
– Laws should be enacted to prevent water pollution. Those found polluting water should pay a fine or face imprisonment.
– People should be encouraged to recycle rain water.
– Farmers should be encouraged to adopt farming practices that use less water.
– Water catchment areas should be preserved.
– People should contribute funds to support clean water initiatives especially in areas that face water shortage.
The Drought in California
California has been experiencing a long period of drought. Experts say that the situation is expected to continue. This condition has cost the economy of California close to $2.7 billion.
The drought has been caused by lack of rain and snowfall for more than 3 years. This has led to the drying up of Colorado River that supplies water to California and 7 other states.
The California drought has caused destruction of flora and fauna life. It has also led to spread of West Nile virus that has negatively affected the health of local population. Furthermore, wild fires have been on increase thus destroying forests and other plants. This has made the situation worse. On top of that, the population of ducks and gees has reduced due to River Colorado drying up.
In an attempt to control water scarcity which has been caused by drought, the state government of California has ordered towns and cities to cut on their water use by 36%. Those who defy the order will pay a fine.
Luckily, the are has been blessed by recent El Nino storms which have acted to restore Golden State reservoirs to more acceptable levels. Water restrictions are being loosened, but for how long? Though rainfall was lower than what meteorologists predicted, the El Nino storms did produce above average rain and snow for the first time in five years.
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