Our planet is comprised of 70 percent water. Given the abundance of this particular resource, the assumption is there's plenty for drinking, bathing, and cooking — for all of our needs. This isn't only inaccurate, but the reality of water availability is actually quite grim.
Only 3 percent of our water is freshwater, and most of that remains inaccessible to us. In other words, the water sources we rely on to live are minimal. And while water is critical to sustaining life — human life — our actions continue to threaten its availability and, therefore, our own survival. Man-made crises, like climate change, pollution, population growth, and unsustainable energy production, all put stress on our water sources. If we sustain this momentum, one billion more people will live in high-water stress areas by 2050; this is in addition to the 3.3 billion people who already do.
Since water scarcity is a product of human impact, it's our responsibility to develop and implement sustainable solutions to reduce water stress across our planet.
What Is Water Scarcity?
As the concept suggests, water scarcity is having inadequate access to vital water resources, which impacts human activities and ecological health. It spans from manageable shortages to more severe crises, like what happened in Flint, Michigan. There are two categories of water scarcity: physical and economic. Physical scarcity denotes insufficient water resources relative to demand, while economic scarcity stems from financial limitations hindering access, storage, and distribution.
Addressing this crisis is imperative. The World Economic Forum recognizes water scarcity as the top risk to humanity and economies worldwide. While India and China are among the most affected, water scarcity resonates across nations like Great Britain, Australia, Mexico, Yemen, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the United States.
The Consequences of Water Scarcity
Water shortages have far-reaching ramifications that ripple through societies and ecosystems.
The Health Impact: The inability to access clean water poses a dire threat to our health. A shocking 842,000 people die annually due to diarrhea caused by consuming contaminated water. One in every four deaths among children under the age of 5 is attributed to water-related illnesses. Limited access to clean water leads to a rise in waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery, and typhoid, which worsen health complications.
Higher Food Costs but Less Access: Agriculture heavily relies on water. Shortages disrupt crop production, leading to reduced yields, food insecurity, and economic instability for farming communities. This reduction in agricultural output directly limits the availability of essential food supplies, and food scarcity intensifies. The reduced supply of crops amplifies market demand, subsequently driving up food prices. Vulnerable communities, already grappling with limited resources, face heightened challenges in accessing and affording nutritious food, exacerbating issues of hunger and malnutrition.
Economic Ramifications: Industries dependent on water, such as manufacturing, energy production, and tourism, face constraints and increased operational costs during shortages. Water scarcity can lead to job losses, economic downturns, and hindered industrial growth.
Addressing Water Scarcity With Innovative Solutions
The topic of water scarcity is bleak, but there’s hope in regard to innovative solutions.
Blue Tech: Blue tech, also known as water technology or water-related technology, uses tools, devices, and systems to manage, treat, conserve, and utilize water resources more efficiently and sustainably. One innovator at the forefront of blue technology is Moses West, a retired army captain. He built an atmospheric water generation (AWG) machine that extracts moisture from the atmosphere and converts it into safe, clean drinking water instantaneously.
Raising Awareness Makes Us Water Stewards: Raising awareness about water scarcity spurs collective action and promotes water stewardship. Organizations like Miami Waterkeeper work incessantly to educate communities about the realities and implications of water scarcity through campaigns, workshops, and educational programs. On an individual level, taking steps to decrease water use through shorter showers and the installation of low-flow toilets can make all the difference in limiting water scarcity.
Investing in Cleaner Energy Production: Transitioning to cleaner energy production, particularly through the adoption of renewable sources like solar and green hydrogen, is a powerful long-term solution. Traditional energy sources like coal and nuclear power demand substantial water for cooling and power generation. Solar energy generation operates without water usage, providing a sustainable alternative that lessens reliance on finite water supplies, while green hydrogen production emits water vapors that leave no residue in the air. This year, the Biden administration vowed to invest $13.5 million to grow the solar energy workforce.
The issue of water stress demands immediate attention, and it's our responsibility to create a world where water scarcity will no longer be a global concern.