Why Are Billions Lacking Safe Drinking Water?
There are few universal constants in the world that link every person on the planet together, but one of them is that we need water to survive, thrive and be our best selves.
Whether it is simply drinking to avoid dehydration or business water suppliers allowing businesses reliant on a constant supply of water to function effectively, water is the vital lifeblood that keeps our planet alive, and over a quarter of the planet’s population lacks what so many people take for granted.
According to a report by the United Nations, at least 2.2bn people lacked what it describes as “safely managed drinking water”, 3.5bn are lacking safe access to sanitation, and 2bn basic hygiene services as of 2022.
The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) also noted that the goal of ensuring the basic water needs of every person in the world by 2030 will only be possible if progress is ramped up significantly in 107 of the 195 countries in the world.
To find out why this is, we need to look at the common causes of water scarcity, what factors are within the control of businesses and individuals, and what can be done to ensure that clean water reserves are protected as much as possible and that nobody needs to go without.
What Is Water Scarcity?
In one sense, water scarcity is exceptionally simple to explain. It is when there is not enough fresh water to meet the demand of people in a given area, which for relatively obvious reasons poses a long-term risk to the health of ecosystems, flora, fauna and human populations of an area.
Given that there is enough water available around the world to meet the needs of every person, water scarcity is typically localised geographically and can be caused in one of two ways.
The first is physical or absolute water scarcity, which is where there is more physical demand for water than the resources available in that region.
This often happens in arid regions, but can also happen in areas where clean water is available but primarily used for other purposes such as irrigation or power generation. This can be a complete lack of water, unequal distribution of freshwater supplies or the effects of pollution and other ecological damage.
The other form of scarcity is economic, which is less about a physical lack of water, but a lack of the infrastructure necessary to draw it from safe sources, such as groundwater lacking wells and tap stands to distribute it.
This typically leads people in areas with economic scarcity to either travel long distances, collect water from contaminated sources or do both at the same time.
It also should be noted that there can be enough water to drink and cook, and for water scarcity to exist, given how water is necessary for hygiene, cleaning clothes, cleaning living and working areas and tending to animals.
A lot of these effects have increased as a result of climate change, which has dried out wetlands and increased demand exponentially across the world for water, leading to increased scarcity during certain parts of the year.
What Are The Effects Of A Lack Of Water?
Besides the obvious danger to life that water scarcity can cause, a lack of water can lead to a range of other consequences as well, some of which have already emerged whilst others are expected to intensify as climate change affects water use and supply.
The most obvious example of the impact of water is food insecurity, as an uncertain supply of water can lead to the death of food crops, poor yields and a shortage of both food and money, depending on whether the food was intended for domestic use or export.
The latter is often the result of an excessive reliance on groundwater, which is often non-replenishable and once overdrafted leads to reduced yields.
As well as this, overusing water, particularly in industrial contexts can introduce pollutants into water supplies that can affect fragile ecosystems and biodiversity.
Finally, shortages of water can lead to conflicts over that supply, which can spill over into outright wars over water, a common cause of regional conflicts that have existed for thousands of years.
What Can Be Done To Solve Water Scarcity?
Water scarcity is a global, complex issue that has a wide range of causes from the industrial to the socioeconomic, and any efficient solutions would need to take a somewhat holistic view to solve, including technological, economic and educational elements.
Part of the solution will take the form of conservation efforts, not only by encouraging people to try and only use water that is necessary on an individual residential level, but also exploring ways in which businesses can avoid using freshwater supplies unnecessarily.
This can include not only increasing detection efforts to find and mitigate leaks in the system but find innovative solutions to particular industry concerns.
A good example of this is managing the heat requirements of data centres, which grew exponentially as companies relied more heavily on cloud services.
One of the most efficient ways to cool computers is through cooling pipes that use water to transfer heat away at a large scale, but the consequence is that a lot of data centres use fresh water supplies unnecessarily.
A range of solutions have been employed, from the somewhat outlandish likes of underwater data centres to the use of circular reclaimed water sources that use wastewater instead.
As well as this, water treatment of wastewater, humidifiers that collect water from the atmosphere and desalination have also been used in various forms to increase the amounts of drinkable water available.
Finally, when patterns of water scarcity become clear, investments can be made into water storage such as harvesting rainwater and pumping water into underground reserves to avoid cases of seasonal scarcity.
Ultimately, with so many pressures on water supplies predicted to intensify, the most successful water suppliers will be those that make the most of every drop.