World water crisis – somewhat personal impact review
This week we have been reflecting on the topic of water, more precisely on its distribution…and more specifically on the evidently increasing uneven distribution… And how all of this unevenness might affect us!
Water is arguably the most valuable resource on our planet. All life depends on water to survive and thrive. However, with the increasing impact of climate change, which is continuously altering patterns of weather and water around the world, more and more are receiving news of water shortages, droughts, and floods. Should we be worried?
With so much information circulating regarding this topic, we decided to look at science as the initial source of truth. Below we would like to share our thoughts on the facts found:
Fact Nr. 1: The distribution of water on Earth’s surface is extremely uneven - only 3% of the water on our planet’s surface is fresh (aka drinking water); the remaining 97% resides in the oceans. Of the aforementioned surface freshwater, 69% resides in glaciers, 30% of freshwater is found underground, and less than 1% is located in lakes, rivers, and swamps. Looking from another perspective, only 1% of the water on the planet’s surface is usable by humans, and 99% of the usable quantity is situated underground.
From one perspective not having that much freshwater to begin with, kind of puts our minds at peace in terms of being worried about the minuscule available quantities. If we have made it thus far with so little, we assume, we should be fine in the future. Additionally, our middle school physics lesson on mass balance comes to mind, that all matter is neither created nor destroyed. So, let’s say, for now, we should be OK on the quantity…or?
- Read and explore more on the topic here: Freshwater Availability Toolkit created by NASA
Fact Nr. 2: Water is always on the move, it is in the atmosphere, in the oceans, rivers, and lakes, on the land, and underground. Water literally never stops moving from place to place through the water cycle. The water cycle explained in one sentence would sound something like this: liquid water evaporates into water vapor, condenses to form clouds, and precipitates back to earth in the form of rain and snow. Furthermore, evaporation and precipitation rates are not evenly distributed around the world. As we all know, some areas receive more water, some less, business as usual. The recent science, however, suggests that it is not the total quantity of water on the planet that we should be worried about, but rather the problem lies within the changing patterns of water distribution. Moreover, science has long since proven that the water cycle is no exception to the impacts of climate change. Specifically, changing temperatures are affecting water vapor concentrations, cloud formation, and consequently precipitation and water replenishment patterns.
Indeed, news channels from the beginning of this summer (perspective of the Northern hemisphere), have been showing us worrisome news throughout the season. We see that some areas are experiencing heavier than usual rainfalls, for example, the ongoing floods in Pakistan (read more here), and other areas are suffering from the unusual absence of precipitation, an example of Norway, (read more here), that has not received its usual rainfall norm since April… Just these two examples, not to bore you with more, already show the globality of the problem. They show that nobody is safeguarded from climate change impacts based on their geographic location. We are all feeling the changing patterns of water distribution.
Conclusion thus far: Climate change is water change!
Even if we, the world’s governments, manage to hit the target to keep global warming to a ceiling of 2℃, the IPCC predicts we would still continue to endure various extreme events, relative to a baseline period of 1850-1900. Some parts of the world will be hit harder than others, yet the science is clear, all people and ecosystems will be affected.
We explored the countries that are under the highest water stress: Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
Fact Nr. 3: Water cycle intensification could make it much harder to get reliable supplies of fresh water across large areas of the planet. Back in 2018, the UN World Water Development Report stated that nearly 6 billion people will suffer from clean water scarcity by 2050. This would be the result of not only the changes in the water cycle and water availability but also the reduction of water resources intensified by increasing pollution of water, driven by dramatic population and economic growth.
Yes, we keep learning, that problem causes are never singular. And also, the impacts are never singular either, although we wished they would be! One thing is clear here, our total water demand cannot exceed the total water availability! However, if we take into account just the numbers of the global population growth, we know that water demand is continuously increasing. The accompanying somewhat scary conclusion that we also reached throughout our research and discussions was that the mass of available water may remain the same, if we for a moment ignored the changes in spatial and temporal distribution, however, the quality will continue deteriorating… are we ready for that?
Fact Nr. 4: Water scarcity will be the biggest climate-related hazard to assets within the next 30 years, especially for the utilities and materials sectors. While the news channels are occupied with displaying eye-catching events from the group of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and wildfires, which are very likely to become more severe and frequent each year, the water scarcity threat remains in the shadows on many companies’ radars.
Potentially Fact Nr. 4 has us worried the most, as we reflect that we need water to grow and produce everything! We need water for irrigation, manufacturing, and power production. For example, as we speak, China’s factories have been forced to close again due to energy shortages that power their manufacturing facilities. Besides that, we need to consider that factories need to have functioning hygiene facilities for their workers.
Quite abstract for us here, in Europe, but here’s a list of impacts that we might very soon feel and will have to get used to as the new normal:
1. Extreme weather events are the new normal, meaning less snow in the winter, and hotter or rainier summers.
2. Global supply chain disruptions, meaning a shortage of supplies for various industries.
3. Future food security in question, meaning not only increasing prices but actual lack of some products.
4. Increased human conflicts, meaning an increased number of conflicts between water users at the local level.
5. Increase of refugee rate, meaning we will have to welcome more people from regions where water scarcity will have made it impossible to survive any longer.
We are leaving you here this week with a lot of open-ended questions…because we invite you to reflect, dig deeper and raise awareness and hopefully take mitigative actions from the perspective that is available to you!