Water Scarcity: An Existential Threat

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On the eve of World Water Day 2016, we decided to find the answer to one of the most intriguing questions related to water: will we ever run out of it? Whilst doing so, we came across some facts about water pollution which were outright concerning.

Annually, 22nd March is observed as the World Water Day to spread awareness about the importance of freshwater and advocate sustainable management of freshwater resources.

Around 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water and yet, more than a billion people around the world don’t have access to clean water to drink. Irony is the word! Of the total water available on Earth, 97.5% is in oceans; unsuitable for drinking due to its salinity. As for the remaining, most of it is stored in the form of polar ice caps and high-altitude glaciers. Thus, we are left with less than 1% water that is potable.

One issue that crops up when it comes to water resources management is the uneven distribution of freshwater sources. While Asia, with 60% of the world population to its credit, only has 36% freshwater sources on the planet, South America, with 6% world population, has 26% of the sources.

It’s but obvious that we need to take good care of available water, but far from that, we seem to be on a mission to spoil it and along with it, our future. Global water crisis is no more a thing of distant future. It is knocking on our door and over a billion people are facing the brunt.

Will We Run Out of Water on Earth?

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We won’t run out of water on the planet because the hydrological cycle or water cycle is a continuous process. However, at the rate at which we are polluting various freshwater sources, we might run out of clean water sometime soon. After all, water pollution has become rampant across the world.

  • Around 90% of untreated waste is dumped into rivers, lakes, and other freshwater sources in developing countries. Source: United Nations World Water Assessment Program (WWAP)
  • Of the 40,000 million liters of sewage produced in Indian cities, only 20% is subjected to treatment; the rest 80% is dumped into water bodies. Source: Excreta Does Matter/Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)
  • An estimated 1.8 billion people the world over are dependent on water contaminated with fecal matter. Source: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply
  • Around 1,800 children under the age of five die every day as a result of diarrheal diseases stemming from water and sanitation issues. Source UNICEF

Our dependence on water clubbed with our carelessness means it will take a combined effort from all of us if we are to save water. There do exist some simple ways to save water. Say, for instance, you simply turn the tap off while you are brushing your teeth, you’ll be able to save a significant quantity of water at an individual level. Imagine the impact if all of us decide to do the same.

Using Water Judiciously: Success Stories

When we talk about water conservation success stories, one that stands out is that of Hiware Bazar, a village in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. Until 1990s, the village was in a very bad condition; courtesy, less than 400 mm rainfall per annum and rampant destruction of the green cover. In fact, the situation was so dire that many villagers migrated to other parts of Maharashtra in the pursuit of a better life.

In 1993, the villagers set on the course of ecological regeneration and started working on the causes of water scarcity in the village. As a part of this, degraded forests were regenerated and contour trenches were built along the hills, which helped restore the water table. Thanks to these efforts, the village is lush green today, and agriculture has become a major source of income for the people.

Even at The Akshaya Patra Foundation, we make it a point to use water judiciously. At the same time, efforts are made to introduce new ideas that can reduce the use of water. Akshaya Patra’s Hubballi kitchen, for instance, came up with the idea of cooking rice with starch instead of draining it out, as a part of Kaizen initiative. The implementation of this idea helps in saving 110 liters of water per batch of rice. A hundred batches of rice are cooked every day, so 11,000 liters of water is saved on a daily basis. If we say there are 220 school days, then the quantity of water saved in a year will be a whopping 24,20,000 liters.

Never has the need to find water scarcity solutions been as urgent as it is today, mainly because for the second year in a row in 2015, the monsoon was poor (775 mm in 2014 and 760.6 mm in 2015.) In fact, 2015 monsoon was the worst in the last six years. The resulting deficit in dam water in different parts of the country has already started affecting electricity production. Things expected to worsen with time as our annual consumption of water is expected to double by 2050.

It would be naïve to think the problem of water scarcity only plagues Asian and African countries. Even parts of western United States and eastern Australia are battling physical water scarcity. In 1995, the then VP of the World Bank, Ismail Serageldin had said, “If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water”. If you go to think of it, he may very well be right!

Check out how Bangalore is facing scarcity of water: blog.akshayapatra.org/world-water-day-2016-every-drop-counts/