Water Shortage
"If you run out of water, you run out of life"

As a resource, water is essential as the primary means of sustenance of people in the world, even more so for the most vulnerable populations. One of the main elements of human development is to secure access to a productive water supply, and to protect it from some of the vulnerabilities associated with maintaining its flow.

When the water supply falls bellow 1.000 cubic meters per person, the inhabitants face a water shortage. This is widely considered as the main characteristic that defines water insecurity. It is considered "absolute shortage" of water when the availability of water is below 500 cubic meters.

Water shortage can be physical, economical or institutional and, just like water, it can fluctuate in time and space.

Water shortage is already affecting all continents. Close to 1.2 billion people, almost a fifth part of the world population, live in areas of physical water shortage, while 500 million are close to being in that same situation. Another 1.6 billion people, almost a quarter of the world population face a situation of economical water shortage, where the countries don't have the necessary infrastructures to take the water from the rivers to the aquifers.

Nowadays, close to 700 million people in 43 countries live below the necessary water requirement.

To a certain extent, water represents the wealth of the world. Worldwide, there's more than enough water for everybody: the problem is that some countries have much more than others. Most countries have enough water to cover the necessities of homes, industries, the agricultural sector and environment (according to hydrologists 1700 m3 per person). The problem is the way it is managed.

Our world may be considered the water planet, but 97% of the water on our planet is in our oceans. The rest of the water is mostly trapped in the icecaps of Antarctica or underground, leaving us with less than 1% available for human consumption, in lakes and rivers, which can be reached easily. Unlike petrol or coal, water is an infinitely renewable resource. In the natural cycle, rainwater falls from the clouds, goes back to the salty sea through rivers, and it evaporates to go back to the clouds once again. The cycle explains why we can't run out of water, but the accessible supply is finite.

In the year 2025, 14 countries will go from suffering water stress to suffering water shortage.

Climate change is highly expected to present a great threat to the stability of the water supply for many of the least developed countries in the world and for millions of the poorest homes within them. Extensive development and unsustainable consumption of freshwater resources add to the problem creating winners and losers. The environment and the water supply are always the loser.

Of course, the threat is not only limited to developing countries. Developed countries will feel the impact of climate change in the amount of rain, the extreme weather conditions and the increase in sea level, but developing countries -and the poor population in those countries- don't have the economic resources that developed countries have for them to reduce the dangers presented by that change to the necessary levels. International efforts are critical to limiting climate affecting carbon emissions, as those limits will help reduce the damage that climate change could produce in the future.

The growing demand for water exceeds population growth.

Current public policies are paying the consequences of past practices when water was treated as a resource that could be exploited with no limits.

The greatest challenge we face is the development of new ethics for water management, which should be backed by a commitment to address the great inequalities that lead to water insecurity.

Over the next 50 years, the melting of the glaciers could become one of the most serious threats to human progress and food security. In many parts of the world, glaciers act as water banks: they store ice and snow in the winter and release them slowly as temperatures rise, sending streams towards agricultural producers who are in lowland areas. Nowadays, these banks are melting at a rate that is accelerating, and as the glaciers recede, water stocks are depleted on a large scale.

Globally, we can find a lot of issues that directly affect us humans, jeopardizing our survival on this planet. Poverty and hunger, for instance, among others, but water shortages are a phenomenon which are not only a natural occurrence but are also caused by human intervention. That is why they are becoming a priority on an international level, and why they are one of the main challenges of the twenty-first century, as many societies around the world are having to face them.

The three fundamental aspects of human welfare this could affect are:

  • Food production
  • Health
  • Socio-political stability

Copyright © 2012 Water, the New Petrol Team
CEP Santa Rosa Marist Brothers - Sullana (Peru) and IES Manacor - Mallorca (Spain)
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