In the 21st century, humanity is likely to experience an array of crises associated with the shortage of various resources. Aside from different economic shortages, such as dwindling oil and gas reserves, one of the few unspoken topics remains the issue of water supply. As it stands, almost 25% of the entire world population lacks access to clean drinking water. Overwhelmingly, that population is concentrated in Africa and South-Eastern Asia, in densely populated countries, such as China and India.
With the expansive growth of the human population and ongoing climate changes, the crisis has the potential to exacerbate and even reach advanced industrial countries, such as those in Europe and North America. The article was written by Alexandra Witze titled “More Than 2 Billion People Lack Safe Drinking Water. That Number Will Only Grow” explores the potential for water crisis escalation as well as the possible measures that have to be taken to prevent it.
The Water Resource Problem and Its Causes
The article highlights several reasons as to why the water source is an issue for so many people worldwide. The primary two factors are climate and overpopulation. Africa is known to be a very arid continent, with few reliable water sources available. At the same time, it is one of the poorest places on Earth, with countries suffering from their colonial heritage, economic crises, tribal wars, disease breakouts, and many other issues. As a result, a good portion of the African population either does not have access to drinking water or the water they have access to is unsafe. This is true for countries such as Nigeria and Congo, located near some of the largest rivers. The lack of a stable government or an infrastructure leads to extreme poverty. People have to drink contaminated water.
In countries with large population densities per square kilometer, such as India, China, Pakistan, Indonesia, and others, the amount of available safe drinking water is not enough to sustain everyone. As shown in Witze’s charts and graphs, ever-increasing population numbers also make reaching them with technological advancements, such as canalization and water supply, extremely difficult.
Anthropological Impact on the Environment
There are growing industrialization rates in developing countries. According to Witze, the agricultural, industrial, and municipal use of freshwater has grown by almost four times since the 1940s. It puts an additional toll on available water supplies, which have not grown but diminished since. In addition to the most obvious issues of increased consumption, pollution, poor waste disposal, and human-facilitated climate change are also affecting the amounts of available drinking water. Furthermore, climate change facilitated by CO releases into the atmosphere by cars, jets, coal-fueled electrical stations, and factories are thinning the ozone layer. As a result, the temperature on Earth increases, which changes weather patterns, causing droughts and facilitating natural disasters, such as forest fires.
Witze states that an increase in drought durations in Africa brings some of the cities to the brink of total annihilation, as the available reserves of water are about to run out. Geopolitical, social, and economic relationships also affect the water crisis. As it was stated in the article, many hard choices need to be made. Building a water dam to supply electricity to a city would cut off supply to the villages located down the river. Trying to extract water from the ground can provoke neighbors to attack. Building a fuel platform will disrupt local agriculture. It creates the food-water-energy nexus that challenges the global society.
At the end of the article, Witze explores the potential remedies to the water crisis. She operates from an assumption that by 2050, the issue would only get worse and that the goals set up by the UN to provide sanitation and water to everyone by 2030 would not be achieved. There are two foreseeable solutions. The first one is to come to a worldwide agreement on how to save and preserve water, as well as share it equally among desperate and thirsty populations.
Agreements to reduce pollution would protect the remaining sources of freshwater, and international norms of water usage in the industry and agriculture would help avoid excesses and wastefulness. However, as Witze points out, it would not be enough. With the population continuing to grow, only technological breakthroughs would help save humanity from a Malthusian fate.
Humanity must emphasize creating safe drinking water from salty ocean water, which is a resource that humanity has in excess due to almost two-thirds of the planet covered in water. Such advances would help alleviate the needs of arid desert continents like Africa and Australia, and provide additional sources of freshwater for industrial countries. According to Witze, these technologies are already being tested. The issue involves making them economically and technologically feasible to provide for enormous municipal, agricultural, and industrial complexes. Once this is accomplished, humanity can focus on other issues. People can survive without fuel and electricity. However, they cannot survive without water.
Witze, Alexandra. “More Than 2 Billion People Lack Safe Drinking Water. That Number Will Only Grow.” Science News, vol. 194, no. 4, 2018, p. 14.