The United Nations World Water Development Report for 2018 indicated that by 2050, about six billion people will suffer from clean water scarcity.
Demand for water is rising with increasing global population while water resources are reducing as a result of encroachment and human activity that leads to climate change and destruction of nature. They hint that the above number of people could actually be an underestimation.
As per the same report, global water demand has increased by 600 per cent over the past 100 years.
According to water.org, Ugandan urban people living in poverty pay as much as 22 per cent of their income to access water from water vendors.
There are wide disparities in water access for Ugandan urban dwellers, with the poor in a very undesirable position.
Overall, about 51 per cent of Ugandans lack access to safe water. At the global level, World Vision reports that 844 million people lack basic drinking water access. The average woman in rural Africa walks six kilometers every day to haul about 20 litres of water.
Every day, more than 800 children under age five die from diarrhoea attributed to poor water and sanitation. By 2050, at least one in four people will likely live in a country affected by chronic or recurring fresh-water shortages.
Regarding the importance of water access for all people, one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals aims to provide universal access to clean water and sanitation by 2030.
Huge amounts needed for agriculture
The above spells dire conditions for the world, if the problem is not addressed. Water is also directly linked to food productivity. Agriculture needs a large amount of water for crops and livestock to thrive.
The United Nations estimates that irrigation claims close to 70 per cent of all freshwater appropriated for human use. Producing one kilogram of rice requires about 3,500 litres of water, one kilogram of beef needs some 15,000 litres, and a cup of coffee about 140 litres.
Being that it has been reported that half of the world’s wetlands disappeared during the 20th century, while many rivers no longer reach the sea, and fish species are endangered, escalation of hunger can be foreseen from present water availability trends.
By the year 2030, global food demand is predicted to increase by 50 per cent. It is therefore foreseeable that demand for water for farming is going to spiral too. It is important that the world can arrest the water scarcity situation, as a matter of urgency.
For Africa’s case, with a fast growing population, already under water distress, the urgency of the situation needs no further emphasis.
Environmental conservation is closely linked with rising water shortage in the world. For us to be able to save future generations, we must take measures that protect as well as restore the environment.
Climate change itself is predicted to account for 20 per cent of global increase in water scarcity. A 2006 study by the UK Meteorological Office concluded that, with no mitigation of climate change, the severe droughts that then occurred only once every 50 years will occur every other year by 2100.
Management of water
Waste water treatment, improved water management and pollution control have to receive sufficient attention.
Managing the crisis of water shortage also calls for local efforts at water-body levels, as much as it requires national and international efforts. It also demands harmonisation of approaches by various stakeholders since water sources and bodies are not constrained by jurisdictional boundaries.
United Nations Departments of Economic and Social Affairs has identified that water plays a key role as part of the strategy to achieving sustainable development goals.
Water shortage is a most urgent crisis, from a wide scope of economic, health and basic human existence perspectives.
It is possible for some to imagine that fresh water is an infinite supply of nature, but it can actually get depleted. In any case, nature has been grossly jeopardized by human activity so much that it is no longer able to avail what it would ordinarily provide to humanity without the latter’s effort.
Some have predicted that the issue of endangered water access is so important that the world will experience wars in future, purely fought over water. This is why managing it is fundamental to the wellbeing of both individual countries and at global level.
Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant