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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Water Scarcity: The Globe

The World and the Water Crisis


The world has to wake up urgently to combat the ever expanding water scarcity crisis before it becomes an epidemic (if it hasn’t become so already)
AMIR HOSSAIN | Issue Dated: December 20, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Water Scarcity | Water Crisis |

Till date, food, water, clothing and shelter have been considered the three basic necessities for every human being. And most responsible governments across the globe have tried to provide adequate food and affordable housing to their citizens, although most such efforts have fallen quite short. Surprisingly, the majority of governments across the globe have not taken the impending water crisis as a serious concern. Without doubt, the potable water situation is worsening across the globe over the years. There are of course the standard poster boys when any crisis has to be exemplified. In places like sub-Saharan Africa, many people spend their whole day in search of water. But you already knew that, didn’t you? The worry is that this trend (of spending one’s productive hours in search of potable water) is no more restricted only to Africa.

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact and Research recently reported in a study that “Climate change will increase the number of people at risk of absolute water scarcity by 40 percent this century.” Today, almost every country is suffering from water scarcity in some or the other form – from the lack of enough water (quantity) to the lack of access to safe potable water (quality). At the same time, there’s an increasing and worrying trend of ‘economic scarcity’ of water in developing nations – in other words, the fact is that finding a secure source of safe drinking water is often time consuming and costly; and in the developing and underdeveloped belt, irrespective of the government’s intentions to provide safe water, the lack of economic resources also raises a huge hurdle. A recent report of the World Resources Institute evaluated water-related risks in 181 countries and 100 river basins. The report mentions that around 40 per cent of the studied nations suffer from high or extreme levels of “Water stress”, which is defined as the ratio of total water withdrawals to total renewable water supply in a given area. A higher percentage of water stress means more water users are competing for limited water supplies. There are 37 countries worldwide in the “Extreme” category, which draw more than 80 per cent of their available water.

According to another assessment commissioned by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact and Research, the ongoing trend of comparatively lesser rain may exacerbate the water scarcity situation. Currently, more than 1.3 billion people are already living in water-scarce regions like the Middle East, North Africa, southern Europe, south Asia and the south-west of the US. More precisely, 780 million (or approximately one in nine people) do not have proper access to a proper water source. The Potsdam Institute’s report further forecasted that global warming will result in more geographies becoming water scarce, and this could involve an additional 668 million people suffering from water scarcity. One of the lead authors, of the study Dieter Gerten, advises, “Even if the temperature increase is restricted to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, many regions will have to adapt their water management and demand to a lower supply, especially since the population is expected to grow significantly in many of these regions.”

Subsequently, more people are suffering from water-prone diseases. Filthy water is considered as a major threat to human health. Diarrhoeal disease alone accounted for 4.1 per cent of the total disability-adjusted life year (DALY) (which is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death). As per WHO, “Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. Each year diarrhoea kills around 760,000 children under five. Globally, there are nearly 1.7 billion cases of diarrhoeal disease every year.”

The United Nations has recently estimated that 4,000 children die each day as a result of diseases caused by drinking of poor quality or contaminated water. In a broader sense, the water crisis will also obviously worsen the food crisis issue extensively, as lack of water will hit irrigation, something developing and underdeveloped nations can ill-afford.

At the same time, it’s not as if this issue cannot be handled. Quite easily in fact, if the lessons on water management from the tiny nation of Singapore are anything to go by. A study by the Asian Development Bank found that the Lion City, which interestingly has no natural water sources, “Has managed the remarkable goal of becoming almost 100 percent self-reliant for water.” In the same lines, WRI has highlighted the success story of Singapore, by mentioning that Singapore “Invests heavily in technology, international agreements and responsible management, allowing it to meet its fresh water needs.” Tan Thai Pin, director of Singapore’s Water Supply (Plants) Department explained how Singapore got over its water crisis in a media interview. He says, “Singapore got over its water crisis; so can India... We have created a system where we get sustainable water supply from four different sources – the four national taps, as we call them – including water from local catchment areas, imported water, reclaimed water known as NEWater and desalinated water... Besides that, despite its limited land area of 710 sq km, Singapore planned to collect every drop of rain and utilise it for water supply.”

As was said above, if Singapore can do it, so can India – and in fact all nations where water scarcity is going out of hand. Instead of forecasting when the next water war would occur between nations, it’s time for the world to take a concerted, concrete and united action to resolve this critical issue. All it took Singapore was four decades to become 100% problem free with respect to water sources. That’s not too long a time period for the word also to reach the same goal.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017