As a child I once came across this phrase 'Water water everywhere, not a single drop to drink'. Though always amused, my young mind could never quite envisage the gravity of the above lines. Years later, I can perhaps now imagine how gruesome that situation would have been for that Ancient Mariner.
The total volume of water on Earth is about 1.4 billion km3. Sounds good? Out of which, the volume of freshwater sources is around 35 million km3, which is about 2.5 percent of the total volume. Yeah, life isn't fair. But wait!! Instead of trying to better our already unfair life, we've been adamant on making it even worse! What else would justify the usable freshwater supply as 200000 km3 of water: less than 1 percent of all freshwater resources?
A report by Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has predicted that by 2025, 1800 million people would be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions. Water-deficit is a gruesome issue today. It affects one in every three persons on Earth, across all continents. Around one fifth of the world's population dwells in areas with water scarcity, truly a very grim story. To say it won't affect me would be living in a reverie. What goes around comes around.
Before diving deep into the topic, if I were to define water scarcity in simple words, I would say it's the imbalance between the supply and demand of the potable, unpolluted water in a region. Simple economics, no big deal. But in order to deal with such a serious issue we must quickly examine the agents which lead to the above imbalance. Some of the most common causes of water scarcity are water pollution and climate change. Pollution is easy to comprehend, but climate change may be a googly. Decreased rainfall, global warming, changes in the season are some of the most common attributes of climate change. This not only leads to decreasing ground water levels but also makes water saline.
They said that the World War III would be fought over water. Well, that is something which lies in the womb of the future, but the present implications because of it aren't any less dreadful! Due to the unavailability of safe drinking water, people have to resort to unsafe water for domestic and irrigative purposes. This is the most common cause of diarrhea. Put this under the light of the following: Diarrhea is the leading cause of illness and death in the 3rd world countries, especially amongst children, and over 88 per cent of these diarrhoreal deaths are due to a lack of access to sanitation facilities, together with inadequate availability of water for hygiene and unsafe drinking water. Also as per a WHO factsheet more than 10% of the food consumed worldwide is irrigated by wastewater containing chemicals and disease causing organisms.
Sadly, this problem majorly affects the developing nations and the poor people. As per a report by the UNDP, people living in the slums of developing nations pay a shocking, 5-10 times more for water than a man who doesn't think twice before shelling out a $ for bottled water. With an ever increasing population and a blatant profligacy in the usage of ground and surface water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and commercial purposes; our environment is severely strained.
As per the United Nation's Millennium Development Goal Number 7- Target 10: the aim is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. To curb this menace of water scarcity, a multi-level action committee, right from the regional to the national level should be formed. An increased collaboration is needed between nations on water resource management. A multidisciplinary and intersectoral approach is the need of the hour which should focus on scarcity alleviation while also sustaining the ecosystem.
But all that is at an international level. How can an ordinary person like you and me contribute to make this picture a shade brighter? At a personal level, let us pledge against wasting water. Isn't it the simplest thing we can do? Let me illustrate a few things that we can do right from this very moment! Check for any leakages in pipes and taps, don't leave the tap on for long, and opt for the 'low flow' mode under shower; the aforementioned are good enough for starters.
Small steps taken by each one of us can create a significant impact. Remember, each drop counts! Otherwise the day is not far when that Mariner's story would be the story of each one of us and try what we may, that Albatross around our neck shall always do good to remind us of our follies. And unfortunately we would have nobody, but us, to blame.
Dr Pallavi Singh is a Masters in Public Health Student from BITS Pilani and is currently interning at HISP (Health Information Systems Programming) Shimla. She has a keen interest in issues related to the environment.
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