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WATER: THE ABSOLUTE FOUNDATION OF LIFE

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

- now becoming a very shaky foundation


Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Taylor Colleridge , The Ancient Mariner


There’s nothing more essential to life on earth than water, according to World Vision, yet, from Cape Town to Flint, Michigan, and from rural, sub-Saharan Africa to Asia’s teeming megacities, there’s a global water crisis. People are struggling to access the quantity and quality of water they need for drinking, cooking, bathing, handwashing, and growing their food.


Amazing progress has been made in making clean water accessible, with people lacking access to clean water decreasing from 1.1 billion in 2000 to 785 million in 2017. But there are still many opportunities to multiply the benefits of clean water through improved sanitation and hygiene behavior change. According to seamtrics.com, 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.


The United Nations recognizes the importance of addressing the global water crisis each year on World Water Day, March 22. Without clean, easily accessible water, families and communities can be locked in poverty for generations, with children droppping out of school and parents strugging to make a living.


Women and children are the most affected — children because they’re more vulnerable to diseases caused by dirty water and women and girls because they often bear the burden of carrying water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours each day. Something like 780 million people live without clean drinking water, and more than one-third of Africa’s population lacks access to safe drinking water. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region.


Access to clean water changes everything; it’s a stepping-stone to development. When people gain access to clean water, they’re better able to practice good hygiene and sanitation. Children enjoy good health and are more likely to attend school. Parents put aside their worries about water-related diseases and lack of clean water access. Instead, they can water crops and livestock and diversify their incomes. Communities no longer vie for rights to a waterhole.


World Vision is one organization that is reaching one new person with clean water every 10 seconds and one new person with handwashing behavior change programming as well. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they provided handwashing facilities at 4,789 schools and 2,480 healthcare facilities, and nearly 1 million households gained access to clean water as well. This is great news and is echoed by many similar organisations doing the same wonderful relief work. But even more is needed.


Here are some frightening statistics, again from seamtrics.com:

· Over the past 40 years the world’s population has doubled but the use of water has quadrupled

· The global middle class will surge from 1.8 to 4.9 billion by 2030, which will result in a significant increase in freshwater consumption

· By 2050, 1 in 5 developing countries will face water shortages (UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization).

· Half of the global population lives in countries where water tables are rapidly falling.

· By the year 2040 there will not be enough water in the world to quench the thirst of the world population and keep the current energy and power solutions going if we continue doing what we are doing today.


According to the UN Report on Water Scarcity , water scarcity can mean scarcity in availability due to physical shortage, or scarcity in access due to the failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply or due to a lack of adequate infrastructure. Water scarcity already affects every continent. Water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered, especially in arid regions.


In fact according to the UN report and as we will read later in more detail, water scarcity will be exacerbated as rapidly growing urban areas place heavy pressure on neighbouring water resources. Climate change and bio-energy demands are also expected to amplify the already complex relationship between world development and water demand.


But they think that there is not a global water shortage as such, but individual countries and regions need to urgently tackle the critical problems presented by water stress. Water has to be treated as a scarce resource, with a far stronger focus on managing demand. Integrated water resources management provides a broad framework for governments to align water use patterns with the needs and demands of different users, including the environment


So why is this happening? Where is all the water going? Here’s the big picture: 72% of all water withdrawals are used by agriculture, 16% by municipalities for households and services, and 12% by industries. (UN-Water 2021)


And when a territory withdraws 25% or more of its renewable freshwater resources it is said to be ‘water-stressed’. Five out of 11 regions have water stress values above 25%, including two regions with high water stress and one with extreme water stress. (UN-Water 2021)


Nearly half the global population are already living in potential water scarce areas at least one month per year and this could increase to some 4.8–5.7 billion in 2050. About 73% of the affected people live in Asia (69% by 2050). (Burek et al., 2016)


Indonesia's water and sanitation crisis

With a population of 273 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and claims Southeast Asia’s largest economy. The capital, Jakarta, continues to expand as an international hub; however, rural communities and residents of informal settlements in urban areas struggle in terms of poor health and infrastructure. For many households, water sources are distant, contaminated or expensive, and household sanitation is unaffordable, according to a report by water.org


They reckon that about 18 million Indonesians lack safe water and 20 million lack access to improved sanitation facilities. Fortunately, there is a growing microfinance sector serving low-income households across the country, and they are recognizing that financing for water supply and sanitation is a growing need.


In Indonesia and around the world, people are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and millions are striving to endure this crisis with an added challenge. They lack access to life’s most critical resource – water. Now more than ever access to safe water is critical to the health of families in Indonesia.


Water.org is a global nonprofit organization working to bring water and sanitation to the world. They want to make it safe, accessible, and cost-effective, and help people get access to safe water and sanitation through affordable financing, such as small loans. Water.org first launched programming in Indonesia in 2015, and have made rapid progress in increasing access to water and sanitation for low-income households through WaterCredit, building strong relationships with more than 26 local financial institutions, and changing the lives of more than 3 million people.


For millions around the world, access to funds stands between them and safe water and sanitation in their home. Water.org offers a portfolio of smart solutions that break down the financial barriers between people living in poverty and access to safe water and sanitation. This is the sort of solution we see as being relevant – and necessary – where the state owned water utilities have failed to reach their most distant targets, and certainly now that government have have been exhausted by the corona virus pandemic.


But we see great potential to further increase the impact of these focused NGOs by collaborating with local water utilities. They can provide customized technical assistance to these government-owned utilities to improve their business operations and sustainability of services. This includes helping them develop affordable financing options for clients who are connecting to their system for the first time, as well as helping them develop digital payment options for greater convenience and cost-efficiency.


We need as clever and innovative and collaborative solutions as we can find. Why?

· Compared to today, five times as much land is likely to be under “extreme drought” by 2050.

· More than two billion people worldwide rely on wells for their water, and they are not going to last, because…

(i) There will be about 1 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by 2025 and global agriculture alone will require another 1 trillion cubic meters of water per year (equal to the annual flow of 20 Niles or 100 Colorado Rivers).

(ii) By 2035, the world’s energy consumption will increase by 35 percent, which in turn will increase water use by 15 percent according to the International Energy Agency.

(iii) In 2050 increased population will result in a 19% increase in agricultural water consumption.

(iv) About 4.5 billion people globally – already live within 50km of an “impaired” water resource – one that is running dry, or polluted. (v) While it takes about 12 gallons per day to sustain a human the average American or European uses over 100 gallons.

(vi) According to the U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment of Global Water Security, by 2030 humanity’s “annual global water requirements” will exceed “current sustainable water supplies” by 40%.


There is not very much good news in this introduction to our special section on water, but to address the problems, we first have to accept them and assess them, and ultimately find the right solutions. Read on and see if there are at least some rays of hope emerging from the gloom.

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