Following is about water security and water scarcity. Water security is the capacity of a population to ensure that they continue to have access to potable water. It is an increasing concern arising from population growth, drought, climate change, oscillation between El Niño and La Niña effects, urbanisation, salinity, upstream pollution, over-allocation of water licences by government agencies and over-utilisation of groundwater from artesian basin. Water security is rapidly declining in many parts of the world.
According to the Pacific Institute "While regional impacts will vary, global climate change will potentially alter agricultural productivity, freshwater availability and quality, access to vital minerals, coastal and island flooding, and more. Among the consequences of these impacts will be challenges to political relationships, realignment of energy markets and regional economies, and threats to security".
Causes of water stress
The concepts of water stress and water scarcity are relatively new. Fifty years ago, when there were fewer than half the current number of people on the planet, the common perception was that water was an infinite resource. People were not as wealthy then as they are today, consumed fewer calories and ate less meat, so less water was needed to produce their food. They required a third of the volume of water we presently take from rivers. Today, the competition for water resources is much more intense. This is because there are now nearly seven billion people on the planet, their consumption of water-thirsty meat and vegetables is rising, and there is increasing competition for water from industry, urbanisation and biofuel crops.
The total amount of available freshwater supply is also decreasing because of climate change, which has caused receding glaciers, reduced stream and river flow, and shrinking lakes. Many aquifers have been over-pumped and are not recharging quickly. Although the total fresh water supply is not used up, much has become polluted, salted, unsuitable or otherwise unavailable for drinking, industry and agriculture. To avoid a global water crisis, farmers will have to strive to increase productivity to meet growing demands for food, while industry and cities find ways to use water more efficiently.
Economic water scarcity, meanwhile, is caused by a lack of investment in water or insufficient human capacity to satisfy the demand for water. Symptoms of economic water scarcity include a lack of infrastructure, with people often having to fetch water from rivers for domestic and agricultural uses. Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity; developing water infrastructure there could therefore help to reduce poverty. Critical conditions often arise for economically poor and politically weak communities living in already dry environments. Some 2.8 billion people currently live in water-scarce areas, as defined by this method. Water allocation between competing users is increasingly determined by application of market-based pricing for either water licenses or actual water.
A popular approach has been to rank countries according to the amount of annual water resources available per person. For example, according to the Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator, a country or region is said to experience "water stress" when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic metres per person per year. At levels between 1,700 and 1,000 cubic metres per person per year, periodic or limited water shortages can be expected. When water supplies drop below 1,000 cubic metres per person per year, the country faces "water scarcity". The Unitied Nations' FAO states that by 2025, 1.9 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions. Water stress is considered "set to become a permanent feature of British life". The World Bank adds that climate change could profoundly alter future patterns of both water availability and use,thereby increasing levels of water stress and insecurity, both at the global scale and in sectors that depend on water.
Another measurement, calculated as part of a wider assessment of water management in 2007, aimed to relate water availability to how the resource was actually used. It therefore divided water scarcity into ‘physical’ and ‘economic’. Physical water scarcity is where there is not enough water to meet all demands, including that needed for ecosystems to function effectively. Arid regions frequently suffer from physical water scarcity. It also occurs where water seems abundant but where resources are over-committed, such as when there is over-development of hydraulic infrastructure for irrigation. Symptoms of physical water scarcity include environmental degradation and declining groundwater.
A water crisis is a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region's demand. The United Nations and other world organizations consider a variety of regions to have water crises such that it is a global concern. Other organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, argue that there is no water crises in such places, but that steps must still be taken to avoid one.
There are several principal manifestations of the water crisis.
- Inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 884 million people
- Inadequate access to water for sanitation and waste disposal for 2.5 billion people
- Groundwater overdrafting (excessive use) leading to diminished agricultural yields
- Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
- Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare
Waterborne diseases and the absence of sanitary domestic water are one of the leading causes of death worldwide. For children under age five, waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death. At any given time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases. According to the World Bank, 88 percent of all waterborne diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
Water is the underlying tenuous balance of safe water supply, but controllable factors such as the management and distribution of the water supply itself contribute to further scarcity.
A 2006 United Nations report focuses on issues of governance as the core of the water crisis, saying "There is enough water for everyone" and "Water insufficiency is often due to mismanagement, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia and a shortage of investment in both human capacity and physical infrastructure". Official data also shows a clear correlation between access to safe water and GDP per capita.
It has also been claimed, primarily by economists, that the water situation has occurred because of a lack of property rights, government regulations and subsidies in the water sector, causing prices to be too low and consumption too high.
Vegetation and wildlife are fundamentally dependent upon adequate freshwater resources. marshes, bogs and riparians are more obviously dependent upon sustainable water supply, but forests and other upland ecosystems are equally at risk of significant productivity changes as water availability is diminished. In the case of wetlands, considerable area has been simply taken from wildlife use to feed and house the expanding human population. But other areas have suffered reduced productivity from gradual diminishing of freshwater inflow, as upstream sources are diverted for human use. In seven states of the U.S. over 80 percent of all historic wetlands were filled by the 1980s, when Congress acted to create a “no net loss” of wetlands.
In Europe extensive loss of wetlands has also occurred with resulting loss of biodiversity. For example many bogs in Scotland have been developed or diminished through human population expansion. One example is the Portlethen Moss in Aberdeenshire.
On Madagascar’s highland plateau, a massive transformation occurred that eliminated virtually all the heavily forested vegetation in the period 1970 to 2000. The slash and burn agriculture eliminated about ten percent of the total country’s native biomass and converted it to a barren wasteland. These effects were from overpopulation and the necessity to feed poor indigenous peoples, but the adverse effects included widespread gully erosion that in turn produced heavily silted rivers that “run red” decades after the deforestation. This eliminated a large amount of usable fresh water and also destroyed much of the riverine ecosystems of several large west-flowing rivers. Several fish species have been driven to the edge of extinction and some, such as the disturbed Tokios coral reef formations in the Indian Ocean, are effectively lost.
In October 2008, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman and former chief executive of Nestlé, warned that the production of biofuels will further deplete the world's water supply.
More than 50 countries on five continents are said to be at risk of conflict over water.
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