Drinkable Water Supply on Sharp Decline, Beckons for Intervention
Advocacy If you type the phrase “how long can you last without” into Google, given the thousands of suggestions to fire back to complete the phrase, it might surprise you that “water” is the first word to bubble up and claim top spot.
Scan the first few pages of the search results and you're presented with a collection of near identical survival websites focused on tips needed to keep your personal water tank from dipping into the red.
But amid all the reams of cut-and-paste references, one particular tip caught my eye. It was a sentence that could easily win the award for most obvious statement of 2012: “The best method to survive without water is not to be placed in that situation in the first place.”
Had Google existed before the Industrial Revolution, when our population barely topped a billion and the horizon actually did seem endless, this statement might have appeared plausible. Fast forward to 2011 and not only does this maxim seem naive, but it’s no longer feasible. Today our global population is just shy of seven billion, with an expected surge up to nine billion by 2050.
"We must broadly analyze our habits if we are going to change them."
On a planet that’s approximately 72 percent water, shouldn’t there be plenty to go around? But here’s the catch: only 2 percent of that 72 percent of water is actually drinkable. Coupled with an access issue that currently leaves 1.1 billion without an adequate clean water supply and suddenly our most precious resource shrinks. Dramatically.
Under siege from nearly every industry—agriculture, clothing, and yes, even our own personal consumption—our water supply is not only drying up before our eyes, it’s being used on all the wrong things. Coupled with a rapid decline of water filling our aquifers, lakes, river, seas, and the unpredictability of rainfall patterns due to a changing climate, cut in half again by waterborne diseases. The result? This year alone, 12 million people will die from a lack of safe drinking water, of which more than three million will die from waterborne diseases.
We can do better. This isn’t a far-off problem. It’s here, now. So at the risk of sounding cliché, I cast my vote for prevention rather than a cure. The good news? Like most other environmental challenges, we already possess most—if not all—of the tools needed to tackle this issue! In my opinion it involves a simple, three-fold approach.
A three fold approach
The first thing we must undergo is a fundamental re-understanding of our current situation. We need to work hard to eradicate the perception that water access, distribution, and hygiene are merely issues for developing nations, and instead recognize that it’s a critical issue for every species and every individual on this planet. We need to create a sense of owner- ship across all demographics, so that everyone takes part in the global conversation.
The second challenge is for us to take this new-found inclusive narrative and use it to catalyze system-wide changes. Not just changes, but improvements. This would alter not just how we capture, store, reuse, and distribute all forms of freshwater, but also how we try and eradicate the dumb inefficiencies—inefficiencies like those stated in a United Nations 2009 World Water Assessment report called “Water in a Changing World” which cites leakage rates of 50 percent in urban environments!
The third step we need to take in order to create a more efficient planet 2.0, one in which we carefully manage our precious water supplies, is to build adaptive management and innovation into the very heart of our plans. We must broadly analyze our habits if we’re going to change them. You might be wondering why we should go to all this trouble. After all, what’s in it for you? A lot, actually. If we follow this plan, our future might hold a wealth of possibility. Or, we can stick to the status quo. We can keep refusing to improve. We already know what kind of future that will entail. Even more billions of people without water, even more waste, even more thirst. The choice is ours. How long can you last without water?