It is easy to think we have an accessible and unlimited abundance of water when you live in a country where supermarkets stock endless bottles of it, your taps run water freely both day and night, and water scarcity is rarely mentioned in the mainstream news. However, the Earth’s available water supply is depleting, and the growing population presents a further strain on what already stands to be limited resource. As abstract as this might seem to some, the UK is not exempt from the threats of water shortages since the system is already one which is struggling to meet the demand.
How much water is actually drinkable?
Despite 75 percent of the planet being covered by water, an enormous 97.5 percent is saltwater and therefore undrinkable. Whilst we can safely drink the 2.5 percent which is freshwater, more than 99 percent of the Earth’s water is unusable or inaccessible by humans, animals and plants. This is because a significant proportion of this freshwater is comprised of glaciers and ice at the North and South poles, leaving only a scarce percentage of freshwater available. Water is characterised by the United Nations as not only necessary for survival, but as a rights issue for the ever-increasing population around the world. In fact, 80 percent of all diseases in the developing world are thought to be water related. Accordingly, access to clean water is important on a broader scale to reduce the levels of disease and to improve overall global health.
So… why is there a problem?
Nearly two billion people around the world live in areas that are at risk of severe water scarcity; meaning they won’t have enough to meet the demand. Furthermore, two-thirds of the world’s population already experience water shortages for at least one month every year. This is only likely to intensify as it is predicted that almost half the world’s population will face severe water scarcity by 2030 without urgent action. More specifically, the Environment Agency has been warning for many years now that England will face water shortages by 2050 unless urgent action is taken to curb both water usage and wastage. This will be because of reduced water availability; this will result in hotter summers and less predictable rainfall, which in turn leads to higher risks of drought across the country.
Water supplies are threatened by the overproduction of crops and livestock, water pollution, and natural habitats which are built over or destroyed. All of these threats are intensified by the damaging impacts that the climate crisis is already causing, including higher temperatures, abnormal changes to rainfall and snow, and an increase in the frequency of flooding and droughts.
What can we do about it?
Education is the first step; if nobody knows about the problem, nobody can fix it. An increase in public awareness is crucial, as placing pressure on big corporations and the government is an important way that individuals can pioneer change. But, perhaps more importantly, you can make changes in your everyday life to reduce your own water consumption; buy less new clothes, reduce your meat and dairy intake, and be mindful of your day-to-day water consumption for daily tasks. The power of such changes are not to be underestimated; PETA have suggested that you save more water by not eating 450 grams of hamburger meat than you would by not showering for two months. Here are some more tips on how you can reduce your water consumption; and remember that whilst it isn’t solely down to individual behaviour, your lifestyle choices do have an impact.
By Charlotte Beardwell