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The Water Shortage Crisis in America & the World:
A Quick Overview of One of the Most Dangerous Crises Humankind has Ever Faced

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.

lack of clean drinking water

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 45 years.

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 six-fold.

  • 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.

Water Wars

It is almost guaranteed that, once water supplies become even more scarce, conflict will break out across the globe.

World Water Day

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," he says.

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 It?

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 liters."

If you'd like to know more about the water shortage facing the world, science writer Fred Pearce has written an excellent book, When 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.

Recommended Reading

Bottled Water: Which City's Tap Water System is Making a Flood of Cash off of You?

Common & Controversial Pollutant in Drinking Water, TCE, Linked Strongly to Cancer


World Water Council

BBC News

MSN Money

The Arizona Republic

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