Global Freshwater Scarcity
By 2025 the UN estimates that 1.8 billion people will be living with absolute water scarcity. That’s about 30% of the world’s population residing in 50 countries. Here are some of the challenges they have acknowledged within these countries:
While the UN has been addressing the global crisis caused by insufficient water supply to satisfy basic human needs, steadily increasing basic human development indicators; growing populations with developing aspirations come with their own demands. Increased commercial and agricultural needs without solid sustainability backings, will almost make the UN’s efforts redundant in the long run.
At least for the moment, the First World is in a stable enough position to address issues around unsustainable water management practices, related economic pressure, and the impact of climate change on our global freshwater scarcity.
Canada, for example, has about 7% of the world’s supply of renewable freshwater but has less than 0.5% of the world’s population. It’s easy to sing Happy Birthday twice around a tap here. But back in Africa, not so much. 20 seconds feels like an eternity when water is scarce. Folks over at The Water Project know it all too well. Trust me, the kids drawing water aren’t standing in a single-file, 2 meters apart, waiting for their turn at the communal tap.
First world water access and personal space are incredible privileges that I am deeply grateful for in my new life here, especially during the pandemic. I often wonder if I share that sentiment with my polite North American friends. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel that way.
We’re so comfy in our First World bubble with our squeaky-clean hands. Climate change is pending doom, but even though we lavishly offer up greenhouse gases, some of us still think it’s far away. Most millennials have never lived through a drought or experienced severe water scarcity.
I don’t know if it was something about South Africa’s government turning off our taps once a home its daily quota, or the way I would pull my face when I had to flush the toilet with left-over bath water – but somewhere in between this forceful sowing of humility, I began to understand what a great equaliser Mother Nature can truly be. I don’t think there’s a vaccine for what she’s ready to serve.
Our ever-expanding global population and consumer choices cultivate an unnatural balance of competing commercial demands on natural water resources – the more we use, the more we seem to need – slowly turning elective water wastage into both an environmental and human rights violation (through apathy for others, your future self, and the next generation).
Sure, freshwater sources are renewable, but for us to maintain sustainable levels of water per capita, our freshwater replenishment rate must be higher than our rate of consumption. So we can’t be taking more than nature is able to provide. This premise applies to all nations. Though I’ve been reading that despite a decline in US water withdrawals between 2005 and 2015, the country still has the highest per capita water consumption amongst most First and Third World economies.
Basically if renewable water sources decline due to seasonal droughts, climate change or consumption related to population spikes and ignorant consumer behavior; that lovely lakeside vacation will be a dry distant memory for you (and I don’t even want to think about what it will mean to these water-stressed countries).