How bad is the current water crisis?

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About 71% of our world is covered with water, most of which is saline (97%) or frozen in ice sheets & glaciers (2%), only the remaining 1% being fresh water. How is it possible that in a water-rich planet, humanity is struggling with water crisis? Water accessibility and availability are major drivers of the water crisis.

In the last decade, rainfall patterns have increasingly adopted radical alterations throughout the planet. Whereas in some parts of the world, floods are now a common scenario. In some other regions, rainfalls have become more rare and occasional. In this sense, climate change is contributing to a growing water crisis and risking the life of millions.

The current events happening with extreme droughts and heatwaves causing unprecedented wildfires, like those recently happening in Australia, whereas in Asia millions were struggling with intense floods.

In that same scenario, and according to the World Health Organization, out of the world’s population (about 8 billion people), 2.2 billion (1/3) cannot rely on safely managed services;

  • 4 billion lack basic services as an improved water source located within a 30 minutes journey
  • 206 million have limited services, requiring a round trip longer than 30 minutes to collect water
  • 435 million people consuming water that is not treated
  • 144 million collecting unsafe drinking water from surface water sources

People living in industrialized nations sometimes take drinking water for granted. Inequality persists and the climate crisis sharpens in towns and rural areas but also in urban areas and cities, which all are under a similar threat – Water scarcity.

Water scarcity does not distinguish between social or economic classes nor does it about a developed or an underdeveloped country. On the other hand, it has also shown its consequences in countries like the U.S, China, India, Belgium, and many others as seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1:Comparison between countries in the world and their freshwater situation
Figure 1:Comparison between countries in the world and their freshwater situation

Water scarcity is not an issue limited to short-term consequences but reaches far into the future as a threat to human health. In regions with the increasing scarcity of rainfalls, a decrease in the volume of aquifers generates a large concentration of harmful pollutants and microorganisms in water springs, making humans vulnerable to water-related diseases

Polluted water and poor sanitation are bound to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Polio. According to a Pacific Institute analysis, around 34 to 76 million people could perish due to polluted water issues, including water-related diseases by the present year.

Water Scarcity

Water scarcity occurs as a consequence of uncontrolled water resource exploitation and the lack of adequate wastewater management techniques. Water use has grown at more than twice the rate of the human population within the last century

Around 1.7 billion people live in areas where water withdrawal reaches up to 80% of their available freshwater supply every year. Figure 2 shows the increase in freshwater use since 1900, registering a radically augmented consumption when moving to the year 2009 and beyond.

 
Figure 2: Global Freshwater use for agriculture, industry and domestic use timeline

What is Water Stress?

Water stress is cataloged as a crisis that nobody talks about, yet it is capable of causing food insecurity, conflict, and migrations, as well as financial instability. Water stress is caused when the demand for water surpasses the availability during a certain period, or when poor quality restricts its use.

These circumstances spoil the quality and quantity of freshwater resources. Increasing world population, improving living standards and increased consumption patterns, as well as extensively irrigated agriculture, are the main drivers of water scarcity. Additionally, deforestation, increased pollution, GHG emissions, and the unconscious use of water cause a deficient supply. Forecasts point to half of the world’s population living in water-stressed areas by 2025.

Water scarcity threatens humanity not only from a health perspective but also in terms of food security. When soils dry-out and get compacted, the most superficial layer gets washed away by rainfalls. This process carries contaminants to crops, instead of being soaked into the ground. The agricultural sector itself accounts for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals.

Figure 3: World Resources institute ranked water stress countries
Figure 3: World Resources institute ranked water stress countries

A region is said to experience water stress when annual water supply drops below 1,700 cubic meters per person per year, according to the Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator. When a country is below 1,000 cubic meters per person per year, the water stress becomes water scarcity.

Figure 3 shows the countries currently facing water-stress conditions, with Belgium, ranked in the 23rd place.

 

As a means of comparison, Figure 4 shows water use in Europe.

 
Figure 4: Water Use in Europe. Source: European Environment Agency

 

 

Can we solve the water crisis?

When no less than 44 countries in the world are experiencing high levels of water stress, as shown in Figure 4, a new generation of solutions must come at a rapid pace.

2018 was the year that marked “Day Zero” for Cape Town in South Africa. Nonetheless, by changing the city’s habits, along with the return of some rain, Cape Town managed to flatten the sharp tip of water scarcity. As time passes by, this unfortunate view will not be uncommon anymore. This is why effective solutions must come from all players in society.

Within the current economic system, water is intimately linked with economic growth. Governments must take action on creating integral water management plans that consider the complete water cycle.

Society counts on the technology and the necessary knowledge to accelerate a positive outcome out of this situation. Improving agricultural water use efficiency, decreasing water use, and promoting wastewater recycle and reuse are measures that without a doubt help to tackle water scarcity and water stress. Some of the proposed solutions that helped Cape Town to halt the growing water scarcity are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Some general solutions to adopt for a sustainable water future

Additionally, as suggested by the International Resource Panel (IRP), governments must also take part by investing in R&D projects to improve wastewater managing technologies, raise interest in building sustainable infrastructure to improve water use efficiency and avoid contamination of water resources, introduce policies to curb water demand, strengthen and direct research into the value of ecosystem services and water to human welfare and economic development.

BOSAQ focuses on providing sustainable solutions to tackle the water crisis. Our consultancy team of experts help companies and organization in defining a future-proof water management strategy for their buildings. Our engineers help governments tackling the drinking water challenges by providing sustainable and decentralized drinking water solutions that have a social impact.

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Jacob Bossaer

Founder & CEO

Jacob is the founder and CEO of BOSAQ. He has founded BOSAQ and Water Heroes to provide a sustainable water solution to the world, right after coming back from one of the most extreme places on earth.

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