When you look at the globe from space, you can see the vast blue expanse of the oceans shining like a precious stone. No other planet looks so beautiful. It’s hard to imagine that water scarcity could even become an issue in a place where water is so abundant.
Yet, only two and a half percent of the planet’s water is freshwater. We use just a sliver of that great blue expanse to drink, bathe, grow our food and flush clean our waste. Our freshwater is extremely precious for daily life.
With the impacts of climate change, more drought and severe weather is making water scarce. At the same time, water access and sanitation are poor in many areas of the world. The World Economic Forum considers the water crisis the fourth top risk for society. Water is too important to take for granted!
As we sneak up on World Water Day on Sunday, March 22, read all about water facts around the globe and water scarcity solutions in this post. Scroll down to take action by donating to a water charity listed at the end of the post. We hope you’ll gain greater respect for the freshwater you use to fill up your bottle.
Get Ready for World Water Day 2020
on March 22!
The UN has called for an international celebration of water on World Water Day each March 22 to create international awareness around water issues we face. The theme for this year’s World Water Day is water and climate change.
Obviously, climate change is not just an atmospheric condition. It impacts all of our natural resources and their abundance. Unpredictable weather patterns that lead to flash floods in some regions paired with severe drought in others.
That’s why we need to protect our forests, known as “carbon sinks,” and our fresh groundwater supplies to “weather” these changes. Here are some key facts that underline the severity of our global water crisis.
Ten water facts you should know
- 2 billion people live in countries with high water stress.
- About 4 billion people (two-thirds of the global population) face water stress at least one month out of the year.
- 2.2 billion people lack access to water that is safe to drink.
- More than half the people on earth (4.2 billion people) lack sanitation services adequate for health.
- Each year, 297,000 children under five die from diseases related to unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene and sanitation.
- 14 of the world’s 20 megacities are experiencing water scarcity or drought
- Our washing, flushing and cooking represents only about 3 percent of our total water consumption.
- 80 percent of wastewater is not reused or treated before it flows back into the environment.
- Freshwater withdrawal primarily comes from agriculture (69 percent), followed by industry (19 percent) and municipal use (12 percent).
- The water footprint of a single bottle of soda is 175 liters of water. This includes the water to grow the sweetener and coffee for the cafeine, process the flavors, mold the plastic, add to the drink, and manufacture and ship the product.
Global water scarcity
Water scarcity map
We can see the big picture of global water scarcity and abundance thanks to projects like NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). Using satellite observation over the course of fourteen years (2002-2017), the project tracked the water around the world by sensing gravity. As a result, we have more information than ever about how water accumulates (or doesn’t) around the world.
Water in Africa
According to the World Health Organization, 40 percent of the population in most need of water relief live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Water is the bedrock of many rural Africans’ lives who depend on farming and agriculture for their food and livelihoods.
Without convenient access to water, large numbers of rural women and children spend their time collecting water. On average, women in Africa must walk nearly four miles to retrieve water. If a child completes this take, it takes up hours of time that could have been spent in a classroom.
A wide range of other problems compound Africa’s water scarcity including pollution, climate change, drought, water mismanagement and lack of water treatment. The poor water quality spreads disease and access to clean water comes with a high price tag. The inequitable distribution of water has even led to water-based political conflict.
Water scarcity in Africa also leads to displacement. As many as 700 people could be displaced by 2030 from the lack of water.
Water shortage in Cape Town
In another part of the world, Cape Town, South Africa nearly reached Day Zero in 2018, when the city would have to turn off access to water. Fortunately, that never happened, because the city imposed strict limits on water use. With the help of agricultural quotas, household water restrictions of 50 liters and bans on filling swimming pools, washing cars and running fountains, water supplies gradually increased.
Do you like hacking global problems in your spare time? So do we. Check out more of our "big ideas" posts:
Water risks in the U.S.
The U.S. is not immune to the problems of global water scarcity. States such as Texas and California, both important agricultural regions have faced long term droughts throughout the 2000s.
A study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council found that a third of the counties in the U.S. will face water shortage by 2050. It found that a total of 14 states have areas where freshwater demand is expected to exceed supply, mostly in the Great Plains and the Southwest.
In other parts of the country, such as Florida, nutrient overloads (too much fertilizer and phosphorus) in the environment are negatively impacting freshwater systems. This has created toxic algae blooms making freshwater bodies like lakes and streams dangerous.
Seven water scarcity solutions
We need to preserve water in every way possible. Scientists, farmers and innovators are all creating useful solutions to the global water crisis. Here are a few of these solutions.
The water cycle in nature automatically creates fresh, clean water. If we can remove barriers to these processes by restoring ecosystems, nature will do a lot of the work for us. Forests, in particular, are essential to providing clean water.
Update water infrastructure
While it can be an expensive endeavor, outdated or inadequate water infrastructure poses many risks in terms of access and wastewater treatment.
One of the biggest sources of pollution to our freshwater bodies is pesticides. By supporting organic farming we can eliminate this risk.
Water meters can track water usage and help regulate overuse. Many households in Cape Town during the water crisis installed water meters to shut off their water. That way, when they exceeded their limit, they could avoid hefty fines.
Industries that have water-intensive practices are finding ways to maximize water efficiency. For instance, textile manufacturers in China have come up with water-free dyeing methods to avoid polluting water with harsh chemicals. Meanwhile farmers are finding ways to prevent leaks in their irrigation systems.
Recycle wastewater and rainwater harvesting
For uses that don’t require the highest level of purity, wastewater recycling and rainwater harvesting can help to preserve our clean freshwater for drinking.
Water purification and desalination
A range of purification technologies exist to tap salt water and wastewater sources for drinking water.
Ways you can help the water crisis
A huge number of charitable organizations play an important role in reducing the impacts of water scarcity in water stressed regions through education, filtration projects, community support and small-scale infrastructure projects. You can help by donating to help them continue their work. Check out the work of these fantastic organizations:
How can we solve the water crisis together? What are your top 3 solutions?
You can start by refilling our water bottles from our own local water source.