Our Future: Water Stress

As populations increase, the climate changes and the demand for water grows due to industrialization, more and more parts of the world will come under water stress. Today, one billion people – a sixth of the world’s population – are estimated to not have access to safe drinking water, with one third of the world’s population without access to proper sanitation facilities. In developing countries, 80% of illnesses are linked to the lack of clean water and adequate sanitation. An estimated one-third of the world is under medium-to-high water stress.

Check out these maps showing the increasing level of water stress in different parts of the world. If this is our future, we need to think urgently about water conservation, better water management, and how to work together to address the consequences of water scarcity. Water and the access to it is not just a matter of public health and hygiene; it is also involves education, poverty, environmental protection, urban planning, the quality of public and private sector governance, natural disaster relief, and climate change.

Water stress is a problem that confronts us now. Yet it receives relatively less attention than other environmental challenges such as global warming. In this video, Canadian activist Maude Barlow discusses the water crisis and what needs to be done to address it. You might also view this CNN report from its “Planet in Peril” series:


7 Responses to “Our Future: Water Stress”

  1. 1 sophie pigot 02/10/2009 at 5:00 pm

    Over 31countries suffer from scarcity of water, one billion people do not have access to clean water. Our consumption of water doubles every 20years and according to the World Bank-by 2025 oover two thirds of the world poulation will not have access to clean drinking water. If Fortune Magazine’s prediction that “water is the oil of the 21 century” then from Vivendi to Coca Cola to Nestle, Transnational Water companies have a bright future. Privatisation is an integral part of economic liberalism however rather than seeing the increase supply and free flow of the resource what is really happenning is barriers being errected preventing millions from getting access.An “invisible fence that goes up around clean water when prices skyrocket owing to privatization, and residents are forced to turn to contaminated sources”(Klein). The right to water is an inalienable individual and collective right. It is idealistic to approach the water problem and follow in the footsteps of Bolivia and reverse the privatisation of the water supply.Gleick blames governments for not providing water for the poorest people in their countries and also mentions of cross border water tensions. Excessive drawing by countries sitting “up river” (amorally) have litle incentive to reduce there use.Examples include the US-Mexico Colorado river and Israel-Gaza (approximately 30 percent of Israel’s water source through the West Bank)

  2. 2 Cheong Man Lei 03/10/2009 at 11:40 pm

    It is really hard for people living in Hong Kong, or to be frank, those in developed economies to have ever imagined the problem of water shortage. Clean water seems to be granted for everyone as it is something very basic regarding human needs and rights. Yet, what’s ridiculous is that the scène of water shortage is indeed not something alien to Hong Kong. The most remarkable cases one can recall from were in the 1950s-1980s. Water rationing was usual practice. It is up till now, given the ceaseless inflow of DongJiang water to HK could Hong Kong people escape from the horrible dream. It nevertheless, gives rise to the wastage problem. In fact, this is a very common problem among those wealthier countries.

    It seems unbelievable that half the world’s population, around 3.2 billion, would face a shortage of clean water by 2080. One of the major causes triggering the shortage is due to climate change, notably the aggravating Global Warming. By disrupting water flow patterns and increasing the severity of floods, droughts and storms, Global warming reduces significantly the availability of drinking water. In this way, in order to solve or alleviate the crisis of water shortage, one must at the same time, devotes efforts in compacting Global Warming which is one of the chief causes.

    Yet, the Stockholm Statement dealing with climate change with also the aim to mitigate the consequential impacts on water seems rather vague. The theme of “ Accessing Water for Common Good” does hit the main point of the problem, unfortunately, neither have there any realistic plans not concrete measures been laid out.

    In my personal opinion, the critical point regarding water issue lies in the misfortunate fact that water is one type of what we called “Common Pool Resources”. It shares the features of “non-trivial costs of excluding individuals from benefiting from the resource yet with subtractable yield from the resource( it refers mainly to the clean water in this case) ”. Given that people are rational and will act rationally to maximize ones’ benefits subject to constraints, clean water shortage is the predictable outcome of irrationality from ration action. This kind of “Tragedy of Common” can and should be solved only by better resource management instead of any other short-term measures like not using water, etc. one best example is shown by “ The CEO Water Mandate” Programme. It is a manifestation of “state-society synergy” through which public-private initiative to assist companies in developing, implementing and discoursing policies and practices for water sustainability.

    Apart from better resource management, attitude of people ( esp those in wealthier countries) should also be changed. Education is crucial achieving this.

  3. 3 James Philip Jee 06/10/2009 at 2:03 am

    I would have to agree that in developed areas we tend to forget how limited water is. Though it would seem ridiculous to say that saving water in a place such as Hong Kong would be so effective as to provide more clean water to sub-Saharan Africa, it seems that water conservation is not something thought about here. I was told that much of Hong Kong’s water supply comes from Mainland China because the island landscape present, though fitted with reservoirs, fails to provide enough water for the population.

    Coming from Los Angeles, we are constantly hampered with initiatives to save water (not that we’re any good at it). Being a naturally arid region, it gets much of its water from the Owens River Valley, which we’ve turned into the Owens Valley without the River. Before the major aqueduct projects, the Owens River Valley, located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the northeast of Los Angeles, used to have a lake. Now it’s little more than a stream that is still constantly pulled to supply the people down south.

  4. 4 Anushri Alva 08/10/2009 at 11:23 am

    India just suffered one of the worst droughts this summer due to a delayed monsoon and the only solutions that the government seems to come up with are building dams and interlinking rivers which pose greater environmental damage and displacement of people than benefits (James I empathize with you, my government is as “good” as yours if not better at managing water:-)). Growing up in quite an affluent part of India I remember every summer having to purchase large barrels of water because our taps had run dry. Even though most people in India feel the direct impact of a water shortage rather than conserving water most people choose to resort to buying barrels of water or illegally tapping into underground sources of water (including the fire department’s pipeline!!). Why I mention this is just to illustrate that when you have the money, more often than not, there is no incentive to conserve water.

    That’s what struck me about Gleick’s clip as he talks about the lack of a will and commitment on the part of people and governments to be more austere in their use of water. I wonder what your thoughts on James Workman’s talk yesterday are. Although I do see how it might seem very ambitious and idealistic even, I liked it because at least he is trying to address the issue of creating an incentive for the individual to be thrifty with water. However, I do wonder how governments would figure into his whole equation as conceived by James Workman, because as some of you have mentioned and as is evident from Maude Barlow’s clip water has a great geopolitical significance.

    This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the economist earlier this year :
    “THE overthrow of Madagascar’s president in mid-March was partly caused by water problems—in South Korea. Worried by the difficulties of increasing food supplies in its water-stressed homeland, Daewoo, a South Korean conglomerate, signed a deal to lease no less than half Madagascar’s arable land to grow grain for South Koreans. Widespread anger at the terms of the deal (the island’s people would have received practically nothing) contributed to the president’s unpopularity. One of the new leader’s first acts was to scrap the agreement.”

    The trend seems to be for governments to try to find more sources of water to meet their demand rather than managing the water they already have (or don’t have).

    Having said that, I still feel optimistic after yesterday’s lecture about innovative solutions to our water problems, and not surprisingly so considering I come from a country that is currently building the commonwealth games village on the flood plain of one of the largest tributaries of the Ganges!

  5. 5 Susan Chan 08/10/2009 at 3:28 pm

    Each year, the world’s population increases by 80 million, and water resources are shrinking. With more mouths to feed, more food needs to be grown, meaning more water used for agriculture. The largest use of water goes towards agriculture, being at 70%. Only 22% goes towards domestic uses, and 8% goes towards personal use. Therefore, agricultural users should keep improving their methods of water usage. In hot, less fertile lands, farming is almost impossible, and water should not be wasted on agriculture in these places. Drip irrigation, drip walls (to utilize rain fall), and low pressure sprinklers can all help to conserve water in agriculture. Another major problem is the polluting of our fresh water supply. Two million tons of waste is dumped into water bodies on a daily basis. In many areas, the water is so poor in quality that it cannot be used. Polluted water and lack of sanitation causes illnesses for people. Many people predict that water will be like the new oil. As water becomes increasingly scarce, the few who control the world’s water resources will be able to drive up prices, even as the gap between the rich and poor widens. Water privatization, many people argued, has led to the decline in the quality and supply of water. These corporations have a monopoly over water, so that people in the area have no choice of what type of water they use. Some fear that this will cause for mankind to lose control of water, because the richer countries have no incentive to conserve water, while the poorer countries have no access to safe drinking water. They think water should be publicly owned and managed; and that the government should take more responsibility in this issue. The demand for water is expected to rise dramatically in the future, as climate change will cause for long droughts in certain areas. Competition for water will cause conflicts between borders in the future and will be an increasingly political issue.

  6. 6 Minerva Lee 11/10/2009 at 6:52 pm

    I agree with Cheong that it’s hard for Hong Kong people especially those like me in this generation to see water shortage as a serious problem. With the agreement with the Guangdong provinces, Hong Kong people are able to benefit from a stable supply of water from DongJiang River and haven’t had water shortage for more than 20 years.

    Not every country or region has sufficient water sources to satisfy the local demand no matter it is because of intrinsic geographical climatic reasons or booming population, booming industries, etc. Often the richer countries who are able to pay import water from other parts of the world. But it seems to me that we, people from the more privileged countries who are in fact benefiting from stable water supply at the expense of poorer people in other parts of the world where the water is transferred from, has come to the point of really taking the stable flow of water for granted. I think we are unnecessarily consuming too much at a price too low for us to care about those who are deprived of clean water at other parts of the world.

    While education for the general public on water saving is important, I think the speaker in the video has a point in suggesting that the core of the water crisis is because of government failures. Because of mismanagement, corruption and lack of the vision to sustainable use of water, many governments allow water pollution and mal-use or overuse of water in their counrties. Hopefully, with better government regulations like pollution control and more investment in infrastructures like water treatment plants, and also better awareness about conserving water, the world can be ensured access to safe water.

  7. 7 Lee Kin Ka Anne 14/10/2009 at 3:17 pm

    Although its clear that certain regions possess more water resources than other areas due to climatic differences, but when speaking in the global context, there should be sufficient water to satisfy the basic needs of every individuals (at least in the current stage).

    The case is similar to the condition of global supply of food. In total, there is enough food for every one. However, there is an extremely unequal distribution that some countries get too many while the less developed countries get too little. There is serious wastage of water and food in many places, and i agree that it is a sort of government failure.

    The government can impose policies and regulations to control the amount of water used by the industrial sector, agricultural sector and individuals. Moreover, technological improvement may helps to solve this problem. To conclude, the main focus should be the reduction of water wastage and finding of ways to increase water supply.

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