By the year 2050, some 4 billion people (that's over half
of the entire world's population) will be facing severe water
shortages. In the United States, people living in Southwestern
states like Arizona could be facing severe freshwater shortages
even sooner -- by 2025.
More than 1 billion people are currently living without
clean drinking water, and an estimated 3 billion people
could be facing similar water shortages in less than
This is not a far-fetched scenario from a science fiction
movie, as it may sound. Instead, this information comes from
NASA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies
worldwide. And when you consider the facts, it's not hard
to understand why there's a problem:
The world's population tripled in the 20th century, and
is expected to increase by another 40-50 percent in the
next 50 years.
Meanwhile, the use of renewable water resources has grown
There isn't any more fresh water in the world today than
there was 1 million years ago.
Water cannot be replaced (such as alternative fuel sources
can replace petroleum).
Over 1 Billion People Are Already Struggling for Water
The water shortage has yet to significantly impact the United
States, at least not on par with how other parts of the world
are already struggling. According to the World Water Council,
1.1 billion people are currently living without clean drinking
water, while another 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation.
Most of the people facing water shortages are in developing
countries -- where it's not uncommon for women to walk for
miles to find water -- but not all of them. In China, where
water supplies equal those of Canada (but the country has
100 times more people), per-capita water reserves are just
one-fourth the global average. Over half of its cities regularly
face moderate to critical water shortages, and each year the
country uses 30 cubic kilometers more water than rain is replacing.
Other areas of the world facing severe water crises include
India, where experts predict groundwater supplies in some
areas will be gone in five to 10 years (and farmland turned
to desert as a result), and the Middle East, where Meir Ben
Meir, Israel's former water commissioner, said, "At the
moment, I project the scarcity of water within five years."
That was in 2000.
It is almost guaranteed that, once water supplies become
even more scarce, conflict will break out across the globe.
March 22 is World
Water Day (WWD) 2007. This year's theme, Coping
with Water Scarcity, is designed to raise awareness
to the growing water shortage facing the world, and
help design some real solutions.
"Water is blue gold; it's terribly precious," said
Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, told the
Monitor. "Not too far in the future, we're going to see
a move to surround and commodify the world's fresh water.
Just as they've divvied up the world's oil, in the coming
century, there's going to be a grab."
Conflicts could easily breakout over water between Israel,
the Palestinians, Jordan and Syria, according to Meir.
"I can promise that if there is not sufficient water
in our region, if there is scarcity of water, if people remain
thirsty for water, then we shall doubtless face war,"
Meanwhile, conflicts closer to home are also a very real
possibility. Already, the seven states (Colorado, Wyoming,
Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California) that share
water from the Colorado River have began negotiations on how
to manage the river's limited water.
"It's not a question of 'if' there's a shortage anymore,
it's 'when,' " said Sid Wilson, general manager of the
Central Arizona Project, which sends water from the Colorado
River to Phoenix, Tucson and other Arizona regions. "We're
struggling, but I have optimism that we'll reach a compromise.
We have to."
What's Causing the Shortage, and What Could Help Solve
Even though the earth is mostly water, less than 2 percent
of it is fresh (and of that small percentage, much of it is
polluted, unsanitary or dependent on cyclical rain patterns).
The shortage is further compounded by an extreme amount of
wasted water when it comes to irrigation practices throughout
the world. According to the World Water Council, 66 percent
of water withdrawals are for irrigation, and in arid regions
irrigation accounts for 90 percent of water withdrawals (other
water withdrawals are for industry (20 percent) and household
use (10 percent), while about 4 percent evaporates from reservoirs).
Key to saving the limited water supply that is left is reducing
the waste. As the World Water Council points out:
"Whatever the use of freshwater (agriculture, industry,
domestic use), huge saving of water and improving of water
management is possible. Almost everywhere, water is wasted,
and as long as people are not facing water scarcity, they
believe access to water is an obvious and natural thing ...
However, changes in food habits, for example, may reduce the
problem, knowing that growing 1kg of potatoes requires only
100 liters of water, whereas 1 kg of beef requires 13,000
If you'd like to know more about the water shortage facing
the world, science writer Fred Pearce has written an excellent
the Rivers Run Dry. This book is an alarming wake-up call
and a much-needed call-to-action about what could be greatest
environmental crisis the world will ever see.
Water: Which City's Tap Water System is Making a Flood of
Cash off of You?
& Controversial Pollutant in Drinking Water, TCE, Linked
Strongly to Cancer