Water Crisis: the Largest Issue of Our Generation

Our generation seems to be plagued with a horde of unending issues. Everything from social strife, a broken political system, environmental degradation, technological advancement, global wars, social justice controversies, and beyond are all highly contemplated and discussed and hold a huge importance to members of our generation.

Those who know me are aware that I strive towards matters of social justice becoming obsolete through the redemption of equality, but I have a confession to make: I do not believe that social justice fights are the largest issues that we face right now. While they are largely important and will continue to require a fight, there is a much larger issue ominously hovering overhead, and no one is even talking about it: the Water Crisis.

 

Global Warming comes with a multitude of devastating consequences, including habitat loss, the extinction of different animal species, the overall increase in temperature… but none of these have such a drastic approach or post-apocalyptic outcome as the lack of drinkable water.

But what does Global Climate Change have to do with this decrease in water? Isn’t this just a consequence of the growing global population? Surprisingly, no. While population does play a part, the role of climate change is much more severe. This is for several reasons: rising heat brings more rapid evaporation, polluting of current freshwater sources, and sources of reliable drinking water are becoming more scarce.

As global temperatures rise steadily, the evaporation of water becomes quicker. With a sped-up evaporation process, water retention becomes much more difficult. This is particularly concerning in areas which already experience a natural dry climate, such as desert regions, because they are less able to hold freshwater or obtain it from lakes and rivers that dry up under the heat and sun.

Many freshwater sources are becoming polluted, rendering them unfit for human consumption. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, garbage buildup can cause many diseases and cause water to become contaminated and undrinkable. As garbage escapes out into water sources, it can spread downstream or become lodged within the bottom of the lake, river, or ocean. When this happens, the water can easily become contaminated. Additionally, as temperatures rise around the world, iceberg melt is occurring and the levels of the ocean are rising. This can lead to saltwater spillage into coastal water supplies such as rivers and underground aquifers. When saltwater gets into a source of freshwater, the process is very difficult to reverse and desalinization of water is (at this point) still costly and ineffective. Saltwater pollution can make sources of drinking water completely unuseable to the populations that are supported by these freshwater sources.

Evaporation and pollution are two contributors to the lack of reliable drinking water, but the problem doesn’t stop there. Many areas around the world rely on springtime glacial melt for much of their freshwater supplies. As temperatures on Earth continue to rise, the glaciers are receding rapidly. Glaciers are virtually impossible to recover once they have melted. Once the glaciers are gone, they cannot be replenished and that steady source of drinking water is lost forever. Additionally, rising temperatures correlate with an increase in rainy precipitation and a decrease in snow. Snow lets off a reliable stream of fresh water when it melts, allowing for easy capture and storage. However, rain moves rapidly and can cause issues such as flooding and home damage. It is much more fleeting and difficult to capture for storage. As snow precipitation goes down, precipitation as a source of freshwater becomes much more unreliable.

 

It is common knowledge that water is the source of all life on our planet, human and otherwise. Without water, animal species will be forced into extinction and the human race will begin to undergo its decline. Already, a significant portion of the world is already experiencing the effects of this water crisis, especially areas like Northern Africa, the Middle East, Western China, and the Western United States. The water crisis has already been cause for poverty, relocation, wars and conflicts, and much more. And it’s just going to get worse.

According to the UN Water’s Policy Brief on Water Quality, by the year 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living under absolute water scarcity and two thirds of the world will be living under water stressed conditions. Just five years later, in 2030, one half of the world will be living in highly water stress.

This is not that far away, under ten years from now. This is within our lifetimes, and it is something that we will watch as it tears away lives, rips apart nations, and decimates families. This is very real, and very soon.

 

The United States of America is the second, after China, as the largest producer of greenhouse gasses, which are the gases responsible for global warming and climate change, and ultimately the water crisis. As of 2011, we produce 17.1 metric tonnes of greenhouse gasses per person. This is tremendous.

So what can be done on an individual level? Anything you can do to decrease your garbage output, decrease your heater and air conditioner usage, or cut down on water usage in your home helps. You can make sure to turn off your lights when they’re not in use or unplug devices when you don’t need them. You can lower or raise your heating a few degrees closer to the outside temperature. You can replace your lawn with fake grass or zero-scaping, or even simply refrain from watering your grass at times when the sun is directly overhead. It might not seem like a lot, but it all adds up. Even your small changes in lifestyle can make a small difference.

 

Sources:
http://www.unwater.org/downloads/waterquality_policybrief.pdf
http://www.gracelinks.org/2380/the-impact-of-climate-change-on-water-resources
http://www.unep.org/dewa/vitalwater/article77.html
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/carbon-emissions-per-person-cap
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http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states
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