The World Water Crisis

Photo by Jeff Ackley on Unsplash @ackley5

The world water crisis has been a focus of alarm for decades, and despite public awareness and some action, the situation has only gotten worse. Millions of people worldwide do not have adequate water supply for drinking, cooking, and basic sanitation. Climate-induced weather change has increased the incident and degree of extreme drought with the consequent degradation of watersheds, aquifers, and wells. Severe storms have caused unequalled volumes of rain, with floods and erosion, increased pollution, inundated farmland and villages, and disruption of the basic requirements for living.

According to the February Economist Impact Report, “more than 3.5 billion people live in areas that experience water scarcity. This is set to increase to more than 5 billion by 2050. Government investment in mitigation of the problem is clearly inadequate, with estimates of some $1.7 trillion required to address any level of redress and improvement to the global water infrastructure.” It is obvious that some serious increase and innovation in water restoration, in the form of re-engineering and Nature-based solution, is essential. Some strategic focus, beyond scientific studies, policy papers, high-level summit meetings, and political calls for action, is required. The economic consequence of the pandemic, and now war in Europe, will not help, as these have and will continue to divert the needed financial resources to immediate social, political problems.

The situation, as we have argued often, cries out for invention. Invention does not always require some new revolutionary technology, some deus ex machina to solve the problem suddenly and simplistically. It may best succeed if we take what we already know and apply it differently, locally and internationally, to scale. For example, the Economist Report asserts that UN agencies and others have long argued “for the protection, management, and restoring of natural system, such as wetlands, marine and coastal ecosystems, as essential for healthy water systems and human well-being. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that forested watersheds provide 75% of the world’s accessible freshwater. More than half the world’s population depends on those resources.” How do we respond to an opportunity to sustain what we already have? We enable massive deforestation, encroaching development, and acid pollution to diminish and corrupt that potential on an ever-increasing, perpetuating, accelerating vector of counter-force and decline.

How to begin? Where I live, small towns sharing a coastal ecosystem are beginning to collaborate first to map and understand the status of local water, its supply and movement across the landscape, to identify point-source pollution, unnatural barriers, and development patterns, in order to create local plans for protection and sustainability, using existing resources best, working from the inside of the community to the outside, from the bottom of the governance structure to the top, demonstrating common sense, economy, planning efficiency, and political will.

On the international level, water as a unifying source is remarkably evident in a collaboration in the Mideast, between Jordan, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates whereby an UAE-owned solar power facility in Jordan will provide electricity to Israel in return for desalinated water for Jordan, what the Economist Report describes as “example of cross-sectoral and cross-boundary thinking.” Think about this: three nations, divided by religion, economic conditions, and political boundaries, rising above historical conflict, to unite around the production and sharing of necessary resources, using modern technology, for the benefit and stability of a geographical region. This is what planning with water entails; it is hydraulic society at its most inventive and rewarding demonstration of human ingenuity and progressive interaction.

So, what we have here is an application of the wisdom Nature contains. Even as a victim of our unmitigated avarice and consumption, it offers us a way forward. These efforts, perpetuated by women and men faced with necessity, transcend the despair we might feel that the world water crisis cannot be faced down in time and place. For me, they are palpable, inspirational harbingers of hope.

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. He is also host of World Ocean Radio, upon which this blog is inspired. World Ocean Radio celebrates 13 years this year, with more than 625 episodes produced to date.



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