Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Water: “a colorless, transparent, odorless liquid that forms the seas, lakes, rivers, and rain; it is the basis of the fluids of living organisms.” Ever since the start of time, water has been critical to survival for all forms of life. It has served as inspiration for great works of art, and fueled mankind's curiosity with its powers. Not only that, but water is also a necessity to life, - without it human survival would not be possible.
For something so crucial to society, the importance of water tends to go almost unseen by many parts of the world. Benjamin Franklin once said, “When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.” With climate change on the rise, we are at a point where even countries in the Global North are forced to face the reality that significant changes in the water cycle will lead to water scarcity in many places.
The World Health Organization (WHO), estimates a quarter of the global population (2.2 billion people) lack access to clean drinking water as of 2019. It’s safe to say that climate change will exponentially increase this number. Many countries have already been hit by global warming, and are facing dire conditions. Child mortality and struggling economies can also be linked to the access a country has to clean water. It's not a matter of when we will see the impacts of water scarcity, it's how we will adapt to a more conscious future.
Cape Town recently became one of the first major cities in the world to approach a point scientist refer to as “day-zero”, where they will indefinitely have to shut off their water supply. Instead of getting running water from a tap, civilians in Cape Town would receive water rations which they will have to collect every week. Shockingly, this dystopian version of Cape Town is not that far from reality for other major cities around the world. Melbourne, Jakarta, London, Tokyo, Istanbul, and Barcelona are just a few of the many cities that are approaching day-zero. The World Resources Institute estimates, by 2040 most of the world won’t have enough water to meet demand year-round.
That being said, water doesn’t leave our planet. Taking the form of ice, clouds, oceans, lakes, etc., the amount of water on Earth is the exact same as it was a thousand years ago. So really, we’re not running out of water, we’re running out of clean water. As Earth’s population continues to rise, so does the amount of water we’re consuming and, thanks to climate change, our water sources are becoming less reliable by the day.
The problem isn’t just that there are more people on Earth using water, it’s how we’re using it. Humans need to drink almost a gallon of water every day, in addition to this, basic hygiene practices can add another twenty gallons to the list. Still, this accounts for only about eight percent of our annual freshwater usage. Most water goes to agriculture and industry.
Everyday products such as a cup of coffee, your favorite t-shirt, the copy of Moby Dick gathering dust on your bookshelf, all use an immense amount of water during production. Research shows that a one liter bottle of Coca-Cola requires thirty-five liters of water to produce.
While the corporate world invests millions of gallons of water into manufacturing hamburgers, and luxurious clothing, many places are left with or approaching a waterless future. With climate change on the rise, we must act fast if we want to turn the tide against a future of water scarcity.