As crucial to our survival as the air we breathe, water is an essential part of the global commons. It is imperative we manage and preserve this precious resource for future generations rather than treat it as a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market.
Water has no substitute. It’s a basic human need, necessary for physical health, agricultural production, the entire spectrum of production and economic activity, and vigorous ecosystems. But fresh water resources are being challenged by population growth, climate change, mismanagement, pollution and greed.
- More than 1 billion people today lack access to safe, clean drinking water. We can expect a 40% gap between global water demand and an accessible, reliable supply by 2030. Earth will be home to 2 billion more people in 2050, most growth taking place in regions that are already water-stressed.
- Just 10 countries share 60 percent of the world’s natural, renewable water resources, further exacerbating the rich-poor divide.
- More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war.
- If global warming continues to increase at current rates, there’s an 80% likelihood that a “mega drought” (lasting longer than 35 years) will hit the US by 2100. Such extreme weather conditions are historically linked to instability and conflict.
- Only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is freshwater. Of that, 30.1% is stored in rapidly depleting underground aquifers. Another 68.6% is stored in glaciers and polar caps. Only 1.3% of the total freshwater on Earth is in surface water sources such as lakes, rivers, and streams. But it is this surface water that humans and other species rely upon for their biological needs.
- Half of the world’s wetlands have already been lost to development.
- More and more watersheds appear to have already passed the point of peak water.
- Over 1.4 billion people currently live in river basins where the use of water exceeds minimum recharge levels.
- Without adequate water, there is no agriculture and no energy production. Agriculture currently represents 70 % of all water withdrawals worldwide. Energy production by coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants may be overtaking agriculture in many areas as the primary user of water. Activities such as fracking and the mining of metals, are both water-intensive and groundwater pollutants.
The emerging water crisis encourages global speculation in land and water rights, taking water out of the commons and putting it into the hands of unscrupulous business interests. So unless we act quickly to address the issues of poor management, self-serving economic incentives, underinvestment in appropriate technologies, and simple waste, we will lose access to adequate and affordable local access to water, leading to severe and perhaps permanent environmental and economic displacement.