The impacts of climate change are vast. It’s impacting our soil, our forests and is wreaking the climate as we know it. However, there is one other area climate change is threatening and it’s something all life depends on – water. The global water crisis has been raised as an issue for years, however, what actually is it? In this article, we take a closer look the global water crisis including the impacts climate change will have on it.
What is the Global Water Crisis?
Water on Planet Earth is abundant. It covers 70% of the planet’s surface and can be found almost anywhere from pole to pole. However, that’s not the full picture.
The water we all drink, fresh water, accounts for just 3% of all the water on Earth. Most of this is also locked away in glaciers. The result of this is that many people don’t have access to water. Some estimates believe that every one person out of ten can’t access clean water. This is a lot of people. Furthermore, 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries while roughly 4 billion people experience water scarcity at least one month every year.
With how we are currently polluting, wasting and overusing water, and the added impact of climate change, it’s predicted that water will soon become a commodity that country’s could wage war over. More and more people will lose access to clean water and this is what the global water crisis is.
What’s Caused the Global Water Crisis?
The global water crisis didn’t happen overnight. While fresh water has always been a finite resource it’s how we’ve mismanaged it that has contributed largely to the ongoing global water crisis.
Somewhat surprisingly, 72% of all water withdrawals are used by agriculture. More recently, the agricultural industry in some areas has reverted to groundwater use for irrigation purposes. In some instances, groundwater reserves have completely dried up.
The water usage amounts found in agriculture are actually staggering. For example, as stated in the video above:
- It takes 2500 gallons of water to grow one bushel of corn.
- A cow eats 50 bushels of corn across its lifetime
- This equates to 125,000 gallons of water per single animal
When this is then multiplied by the number of cows and other types of feed and water usage are included the numbers are unbelievable. On top of this, agriculture is a huge pollutant of water resources. This happens primarily through agricultural runoff and compounds the issues that agriculture causes. The industry’s historic and ongoing usage of water is one of the causes of the global water crisis.
When a source of water is located, countries use a range of infrastructure to treat it and distribute it to consumers. However, around the world, a lot of this infrastructure is old, outdated and faulty. This results in a lot of water leakage which is extremely wasteful when it’s a finite resource and demonstrates how poor infrastructure contributes to the global water crisis.
For example, in the US, it’s estimated that 6 billions gallons of treated water is lost every single day! This is fresh clean water just gone through faulty pipes and leakages. On top of this, poor infrastructure can also lead to further disasters like the Oroville Dam Spillway failure in 2017. Lack of maintenance like this can lead to vast amounts of important water being lost almost instantly.
Linked to the previous point, water wastage is a global issue. Clean water is used in nearly all aspects of life. We cook with it, we wash with it and we clean with it yet so much is wasted throughout these processes.
Some leave the taps running when brushing their teeth. However, this allows up to 12 litres of clean water go to waste each time a person brushes. Similarly, turning the shower on and waiting for the water to warm up has proven to be a huge waste of the resource. And, let’s not forget that even the newest toilets still use 1.28 gallons of clean water per flush!
While these are extremely low amounts of water wastage when compared to poor infrastructure and agriculture, when this is extrapolated throughout populations and out of the home into places of work too, it’s clear how much of an issue it is.
Natural Systems Are Ignored or Damaged
Another contributor to the ongoing global water crisis is the fact that the planet’s natural systems to control and manage the flow of water are ignored or have been destroyed.
Many different plants form ecosystems around the world and help to “filter pollutants, buffer against floods and storms, and regulate water supply“. An example CHEC has familiarity with is mangroves. However, the issue is that as a species we’ve destroyed many of the ecosystems that perform these roles naturally. The aforementioned mangroves have lost 9,736 km2 since 1996. Similarly, forests, which used to cover 57% of the world, have slowly declined and with them their natural systems.
Lots of work is ongoing around the world to restore these important natural systems. For example, natural wetland restoration is in focus in a lot of places right now. Wetlands help clean water and act as buffers against both floods and droughts which also impact the global water situation. However, the damage already caused is so extensive that it will take a long time to reverse. In the meantime, the lack of these natural systems will continue to contribute to the global water crisis.
The Impact of Climate Change on the Global Water Crisis
The global water crisis is obviously negative in and of itself. However, one thing is making worse – climate change. The changing climate is impacting the global water crisis in a multitude of ways. While increased temperatures result in increasing demands for water, the impacts can go much further than this. To best summarise these impacts, we’ve collected the following facts about the impact of climate change on the global water crisis:
- Roughly 74% of natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 were water-related with such events set to increase due to climate change.
- Glacial melt and associated floods, landslides and avalanches will impact hundreds of millions of people who rely on them for water and agriculture.
- Higher temperatures can increase the likelihood of deadly pathogens in freshwater making the declining resource dangerous to drink.
- The current climate scenario predicts that between 24 and 700 million people will be displaced because of water scarcity by 2030.
- Increased rainfalls due to climate change will further overwhelm already struggling infrastructure leading to further flood events.
These are just some of the facts in relation to the impact of climate change on the global water crisis. The key thing to understand is that “most of the climate change impacts come down to water“. Water and the systems it forms around the world are all intrinsically linked to the climate. So a changing climate will result in changing water systems. When that water system is already stressed any additional impacts will be much worse.
What Can I Do to Help Save Water?
Oftentimes, individuals can feel helpless when it comes to large issues such as climate change and the global water crisis. However, there’s always something we can do. They may be small steps, but it’s a start. If every person made little changes, the impact would be collectively great. When it comes to the global water crisis, there’s a lot individuals can do to make an impact. Take a look at the list below and see what you can do today!
- Turn off taps – Don’t leave them running while you brush your teeth.
- Only take as much water that’s needed for the purpose it’s needed for – Don’t fill the sink up to wash just a couple of plates.
- Reuse water where possible – Use bath, shower or even washing machine water to water your plants.
- Use less water – Limit the time you take in the shower remembering that every minute up to 17 litres of water is used.
- Become water efficient – Wash clothes when the machine is full. This uses less water than two half loads.
- Reduce your food waste – As you’ve seen, water is used extensively in food production so don’t waste it!
- Harvest rain water – Use a water butt or buckets to collect rain water to use in your garden instead of using clean tap water.
- Maintain your plumbing system – Have your plumbing system checked regularly to ensure there are no leaks.
- Stop water evaporation – Use a mulch in your garden to stop water loss or when you do water, ensure water gets to the roots rather than staying on the surface and evaporating.
- Become a water advocate – Follow or support organisations tackling the water crisis. You can start by sharing this article!