"It's not going to happen" will be the short and tragic answer to the question if governing bodies throughout the world continue to side-step the troubling reality of our planet's shrinking fresh water supply. The challenges of global warming, pollution from industrial waste and sewage disposal, and the deterioration of water delivery systems must be faced now in order to avoid a worldwide water crisis within the next ten to fifteen years.
As the world population grows, more fresh water is needed for drinking water and sanitation. As a result, the water available for agriculture and industrial uses is plunging below demand levels. The effects of global warming are causing water shortages and droughts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Water mismanagement by government agencies adds to the shortages. Dumping treated and untreated human waste into bodies of water is a suicidal policy that is reducing the worldwide fresh water supply on a daily basis. Poisonous industrial waste products continue to find their way into lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers.
The world's supply of fresh water hasn't increased since biblical times. We're destroying an irreplaceable commodity essential to life while increasing demand at an uncontrolled, alarming rate.
While 75 percent of the earth's surface is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water. O.3 percent of the fresh water is found on the surface. The balance is buried deep underground.
The burgeoning water crisis is not confined to third world countries or the desert nations of the Middle-East. In Atlanta, Georgia, for example, there are days the tap water is so murky residents are afraid to bathe in it much less drink it, even though city officials claim the water is safe. The discoloration of the water is a result of under-serviced mains and pipes, many more than a century old, reaching the end of their useful life spans. When pipes in a water delivery system crack or break, dirt, bacteria, and other pathogens are sucked into the complex underground arteries of a system like Atlanta's. The problem is usually handled by flushing out the contaminated pipes and upping chlorine levels in each isolated instance. Few Officials see this as a viable solution for the future. Atlanta's water problems exemplify similar situations in major cities across America. The Country's water delivery systems are failing due to old age. A massive infusion of capital (100 to 150 billion dollars per city) is needed to install new systems.
Most of us are too consumed with our daily struggle for existence to worry about global problems like the water crisis. This has to change. Citizens of every country in the world have to take steps to force their governments to enact social programs and legislation to address the water crisis right away in order to avert a catastrophic decline in the quality of life we have become used to.
The situation is bad enough already. One person out of six people alive today doesn't have easy access to a safe, fresh water supply. Two out of six people in the world (approximately 2.4 billion individuals) do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. This increases the instance of water-borne diseases astronomically. One child in the world dies every fifteen seconds due to a water-related illness. Studies have estimated 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases. Half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-related health problems. 1.8 million Children die each year from diarrhea. Millions of women and children in under developed countries are forced to trek long distances every day to collect water from sources that are often polluted.
It will take unprecedented cooperation between world governments to solve the world-wide water crisis. But the effort has to begin with individual citizens. Governments will not move quickly enough unless there is a loud outcry from the people most affected - you and me.
Let's take the issue of carbon dioxide emissions for example. The U.S. Government has been too slow in lowering emissions standards. We would all be driving cars running on hybrid and even non-gasoline based fuels today if the original schedule for emissions reductions had been adhered to. We face the imminent threat of crop failures, coastline flooding, extensive droughts, and other serious problems resulting from global warming because this issue has not been managed properly by our government. It is not a problem of adequate technology. It is a problem of mandating change.
Another issue world governments are avoiding is the disposal of raw sewage. We need an environmentally friendly method of treating and disposing of human waste. The necessary funds can be raised and the technology implemented quickly if people force their governments to mandate change.
We need more projects like the "One Water" documentary film sponsored by the University of Miami to raise public awareness of the growing world water crisis. In addition, governments and people around the world must cooperate in developing educational programs, incentive programs, and the distribution of birth control devices to slow population growth to a responsible rate.
Cooperation, innovative ideas, comprehensive solutions, and immediate action are required. We must not put off until tomorrow what desperately needs to be done today.
Sources: U.S. News and World Report; "The Coming Water Crisis," August, 4, 2002, Web edition. National Geographic News; "UN Highlights World Water Crisis," June 5th, 2003, Web edition. Water Partners International (www.waterpartners.org.) World Water Council (www.worldwatercouncil.org.) "One Water" (www.onewater.org.) (www.1h2o.org.)