October 2016

A Clean Water Crisis

The water you drink today has likely been around in one form or another sincedinosaurs roamed the Earth, hundreds of millions of years ago.

While the amount of freshwater on the planet has remained fairly constant over time—continually recycled through the atmosphere and back into our cups—the population has exploded. This means that every year competition for a clean, copious supply of water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and sustaining life intensifies.

Water scarcity is an abstract concept to many and a stark reality for others. It is the result of myriad environmental, political, economic, and social forces.

Freshwater makes up a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.

Due to geography, climate, engineering, regulation, and competition for resources, some regions seem relatively flush with freshwater, while others face drought and debilitating pollution. In much of the developing world, clean water is either hard to come by or a commodity that requires laborious work or significant currency to obtain.

Water Is Life

Wherever they are, people need water to survive. Not only is the human body 60 percent water, the resource is also essential for producing food, clothing, and computers, moving our waste stream, and keeping us and the environment healthy.

Unfortunately, humans have proved to be inefficient water users. (The average hamburger takes 2,400 liters, or 630 gallons, of water to produce, and many water-intensive crops, such as cotton, are grown in arid regions.)

According to the United Nations, water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change.

The challenge we face now is how to effectively conserve, manage, and distribute the water we have. National Geographic’s Freshwater Web siteencourages you to explore the local stories and global trends defining the world’s water crisis. Learn where freshwater resources exist; how they are used; and how climate, technology, policy, and people play a role in both creating obstacles and finding solutions. Peruse the site to learn how you can make a difference by reducing your water footprint and getting involved with local and global water conservation and advocacy efforts.

A Clean Water Crisis
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If Flint officials are now charged

(NaturalNews) Americans jaded by decades of growing government unresponsiveness, were shocked when the Michigan attorney general announced that he would file charges against two state environmental officials and a Flint city official, for negligently continuing to provide lead-tainted water to residents, even after becoming aware that the water was contaminated.

And yet, as reported by The New York Times and other media, that is precisely what happened in recent days. The three are the first to face criminal charges in a scandal where residents unwittingly drank tainted water for nearly 18 months.

In announcing the charges, Attorney General Bill Schuette pledged more action. “These charges are only the beginning,” he said. “There will be more to come — that I can guarantee you.”

The Times reported further:

The charges against the three defendants — Michael Prysby, a district engineer with the State Department of Environmental Quality; Stephen Busch, a district supervisor in the same department; and Michael Glasgow, the city’s utilities manager — included tampering with evidence contained in reports on lead levels in city water, and the two state officials were also charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence.

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/053817_Flint_water_poisoning_government_cover-up_CDC_officials.html#ixzz4MlCslekl

If Flint officials are now charged
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Children play and bathe in an irrigation water tank for rice fields

Clean water is essential for life, but most people in the developed world don’t think much about the water they use for drinking, food preparation, and sanitation. In developing nations, however, the search for safe drinking water can be a daily crisis. Millions of people die each year, most of them children, from largely preventable diseases caused by a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation.

Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and the National Geographic Society’s freshwater fellow, said freshwater scarcity presents a growing problem to be addressed during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil from June 20 to 22. “It manifests itself in the depletion of groundwater, and the drying up of rivers and lakes upon which people depend for irrigation to grow their food,” she said. “The intersection of water scarcity, food security, and a changing climate on top of it all raises a suite of water concerns that urgently need to be addressed.”

Much progress is possible. In fact, due to the dedicated efforts of governments and NGOs since the 1992 Earth Summit, safe drinking water has been made available to some 1.7 billion people around the world, with projects ranging from modern piped plumbing to rainwater collection and storage.

But an estimated 880 million people still don’t have regular access to clean water. “And we haven’t made nearly as much progress on sanitation,” Postel said. “Something like 2.7 billion people are without adequate sanitation, so that challenge still looms very large.” Policymakers will struggle to lower both numbers even as the planet’s population rises by an expected three billion over the next 50 to 75 years.

Serious Challenges

About 5,000 children die each day due to preventable diarrheal diseases such as cholera and dysentery, which spread when people use contaminated water for drinking or cooking. A lack of water for personal hygiene leads to the spread of totally preventable ailments like trachoma, which has blinded some six million people.

Water woes also trap many low-income families in a cycle of poverty and poor education—and the poorest suffer most from lack of access to water. People who spend much of their time in ill health, caring for sick children, or laboriously collecting water at distances averaging 3.75 miles (6 kilometers) a day are denied educational and economic opportunities to better their lives.

Competition can be fierce for this precious commodity. Agriculture claims the lion’s share of freshwater worldwide, soaking up some 70 percent, and industrial uses consume another 22 percent. Watersheds and aquifers don’t respect political borders and nations don’t always work together to share common resources—so water can be a frequent source of international conflict as well.

Day-by-day demand keeps growing, further draining water sources, from great rivers to underground aquifers. “We’re going deeper into debt on our groundwater use,” Postel said, “and that has very significant impacts for global water security. The rate of groundwater depletion has doubled since 1960.”

Some of Earth’s groundwater is fossil water, created when Earth’s climate was far different. Today such water is as finite as petroleum. Other aquifers are renewable. “But we’re pumping many of them out faster than precipitation is recharging them,” Postel explained. “This is the case underneath the breadbasket of India, underneath the wheat and cornfields on the plains of north China, under California’s Central Valley. We need to bring withdrawals into balance with recharge.”

Humanity’s growing thirst also poses a major problem for aquatic ecosystems. “When we take water from rivers, floodplains, and watersheds, those ecosystems bear the brunt of water scarcity and begin to be degraded or disappear,” she said. “And that also creates a cost to us, not just to nature, because we also depend upon those ecosystems.”

The Path to Solutions

The silver lining, Postel noted, is that many opportunities exist to use the water we do have more productively. Change begins with more efficient management of water resources.

“Seventy percent of all the water we use globally is for agriculture, so that’s where we first have to become a lot more efficient through methods like drip irrigation and growing crops that are more suitable to the local climate,” Postel said. “We still have too few incentives for farmers to use water more efficiently. Farmers are good businesspeople; they respond to incentives that affect their bottom line.”

The United National General Assembly has recognized “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” Making that right become a universal reality, and providing each person on the planet with affordable access to the 20 to 50 liters of daily water required to sustain life, is a clear goal for the decades ahead.

Children play and bathe in an irrigation water tank for rice fields
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