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What Is Water Scarcity?

  • Water ScarcityWater covers 70% of our planet, and it is easy to think that it will always be plentiful. However, freshwater—the stuff we drink, bathe in, irrigate our farm fields with—is incredibly rare. Only 3% of the world's water is fresh water, and two-thirds of that is tucked away in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for our use.

    Water is our past. Water is our future. Without it, we cannot survive, and there are no alternatives. Many people have likened the issue of water scarcity to our current economic struggle over petroleum. Without petroleum, we can't drive our cars, and maybe we have to walk to school or work. This is not the case for water, as we are not dealing with simple inconveniences (as grandiose as they may be), we are dealing with the issue of sustaining life itself.

    As a result, some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Inadequate sanitation is also a problem for 2.4 billion people-they are exposed to diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, and other water-borne illnesses. Two million people, mostly children, die each year from diarrheal diseases alone.

    Many of the water systems that keep ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population have become stressed. Rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. More than half the world's wetlands have disappeared. Agriculture consumes more water than any other source and wastes much of that through inefficiencies. Climate change is altering patterns of weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others.

    At the current consumption rate, this situation will only get worse. By 2025, two-thirds of the world's population may face water shortages. And ecosystems around the world will suffer even more.

    The human population has successfully harnessed many of the world's natural waterways-building dams, water wells, vast irrigation systems and other structures that have allowed civilizations to grow and thrive. But water systems are increasingly stressed, and some rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up.

  • PollutionWater pollution comes from many sources including pesticides and fertilizers that wash away from farms, untreated human wastewater, and industrial waste. Even groundwater is not safe from pollution, as many pollutants can leach into underground aquifers. Some effects are immediate, as when harmful bacteria from human waste contaminate water and make it unfit to drink or swim in. In other instances such as toxic substances from industrial processes—it may take years to build up in the environment and food chain before their effects are fully recognized.

  • Agriculture Agriculture uses 70% of the world's accessible freshwater, but some 60% of this is wasted due to leaky irrigation systems, inefficient application methods as well as the cultivation of crops that are too thirsty for the environment in which they are grown. This wasteful use of water is drying out rivers, lakes and underground aquifers. Many countries that produce large amounts of food-including India, China, Australia, Spain and the United States—have reached or are close to reaching their water resource limits. Added to these thirsty crops are the fact that agriculture also generates considerable freshwater pollution – both through fertilizers as well as pesticides - all of which affect both humans and other species.

  • Population GrowthIn the last 50 years, the human population has more than doubled. This rapid growth with its accompanying economic development and industrialization—has transformed water ecosystems around the world and resulted in a massive loss of biodiversity. Today, 41% of the world's population lives in river basins that are under water stress. Concern about water availability grows as freshwater use continues at unsustainable levels. Furthermore, these new faces also need food, shelter, and clothing, thus resulting in additional pressure on freshwater through the production of commodities and energy.

  • MethodsTo analyze the situation of water scarcity, enough data must be present to form a usable model. Since there is not sufficient global data to form a useful model, we decided to base our analysis on a developed nation, ideally the United States. By using data from case studies performed by Bouwer and Gleick, we created a simple model which replicates water supply and usage is the US. The stock used for the main water supply consisted of two of the largest reservoirs of usable fresh water, the Great Lakes and the Ogallala aquifer. Running the simulation into the future, the issue of water scarcity becomes salient.

  • DiscussionThere is currently a more than ample supply of renewable water to sustain the country. Recreational uses aside, water demands are tied directly to industry, agriculture, and domestic purposes. These three factors increase with population, which is constantly increasing. For our first run, no used water is recycled. This is done to illustrate the limitations of the water supply in the world- in light of increasing populations; there is not enough water to sustain the world.

  • Solutions

    In order to make any improvements regarding the issue of water scarcity in our world today, more than one solution is necessary. Although water scarcity is not a substantial problem to every country currently, many countries feel the effects of water scarcity and the issue must be addressed. If this issue is not dealt with soon, it will become a problem for many other countries in the near future, some which are already beginning to feel the effects. There are several actions that would be effective in preserving and conserving water.

    One possible solution is the use of desalinization technology. This system is described as filtering salty water through membranes and removing the salt through electro dialysis and reverse osmosis. This procedure has worked for about many countries. With this system, these nations are currently producing six billion gallons of usable water a day. Recently, however, the desalinization process has become much more practical for metropolitan areas and reverse-osmosis systems have made significant improvements.

    Despite these improvements, only 2.3% of wastewater that is generated by municipalities is currently being recycled and reused. If water were saved by utilizing reclaimed water for irrigation in. Globally implementing simple recycling and filtration systems would be a relatively easy task that would reap outstanding benefits. Making these global advancements would be a monetarily and environmentally friendly step in the right direction towards the reduction of global water scarcity.

    The task of conserving water can also be conquered on a smaller scale, beginning with small improvements in individual homes. One solution is to develop and mandate more efficient household water heaters. In old homes with poor insulation, the time needed to heat up the water from a faucet or showerhead can often is extensive. With heated pipes and better insulation throughout the system, this wasted water would no longer be an issue as hot water would immediately pour from the faucet. If this improvement was mandated by the government and supported financially where necessary, the benefits would be sizeable. In addition to conservation of water, heating costs would also be lower. In particularly old homes, heating costs for the entire house can be extremely high, especially in the winter. If this idea can be advertised to homeowners as environmentally friendly as well as cost-effective, it should have a very high support rate. Although this is only a minute progression towards improving the issue of water scarcity, every achievable method towards preventing this from becoming a large-scale problem is worthwhile.

    Plainly, more than one solution is necessary in order to reduce or solve the issue of water scarcity that the world faces today. Any action, whether it may be improving insulation of water heating systems within the home, or composing multinational treaties, is important and must be taken into consideration. Our world currently faces a dilemma regarding a limited water supply and if the issue continues to progress without significant alterations, the consequences will be detrimental. Conclusion Water scarcity is a problem of the future. There are many concerns in the world today, and water scarcity is currently in the backseat. Our world can only address so many problems at a time, and we tend to put them off until the need to find a solution becomes dire. All the research and projections we have found show that this will indeed be a dire situation in as early as 20 years from now. Children are already dying in large numbers in poverty-stricken regions due to preventable waterborne illness, and the destruction of natural ecosystems is greatly reducing fresh water biodiversity.

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