By 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in parts of the world with absolute water scarcity. With Cape Town at the forefront of the conversation around the water crisis, water scarcity continues to augment itself as a real fear for cities everywhere.
Although Cape Town has battled water scarcity since 2015, the threat became particularly imminent when city leadership announced “Day Zero” earlier this year, when Cape Town’s taps will be turned off indefinitely if water conservation efforts are not stepped up.
Although 70 percent of the planet is made up of water, only three percent is freshwater, 75 percent of which is frozen in glaciers. Aside from the toll that water scarcity has on agriculture, the human toll in developing countries is felt by the 80 percent of illnesses that are related to dirty water sources or unkept sewage systems.
Waterlogic, an Australian company, teamed up US-based content marketing company Ghergich to produce a study and infograph on water scarcity around the world. The study defines water scarcity as insufficient access to the water resources necessary to sustain a region, emphasizing that water scarcity can affect both human activity and the ecosystem. The toll on human activity is split into physical water scarcity, which is the actual scarcity of water, and economic water scarcity, which arises from the lack of sufficient economic resources to maintain a steady flow of fresh water.
The study defines six primary causes of water scarcity, including: climate change, water pollution, industrial agriculture, unsustainable energy production and industrial practices, as well as the growth of the world’s population. Climate change, however, remains the most contentious issue in the conversation around water scarcity, with water bodies quickly drying up in cities around the world – an aspect of Cape Town’s predicament, for example.
The Paris Agreement, the world’s most recent international agreement on global warming, also addresses water scarcity as a facet of climate change and its impact on the world.
Even without the eerie impact of climate change on the world, a 2016 study suggests that two-thirds of the world’s population already experiences water scarcity at least one month every year. Additionally, in places like China and India, 500 million people consume twice more water than the amount replenished by rain every year, meaning that a steady water supply isn’t guaranteed to them in coming years.
The study also lists a number of potential impacts that are felt in cities around the world. The consequences of water scarcity include a lack of access to clean drinking water, threatened ecosystems, and fragile economies.
Also threatening is how water scarcity can lead to a reduction in people’s access to food, since food production becomes more expensive as access to fresh water decreases. This could potentially be remedied with what is better known as saline agriculture – a method of irrigating crops with salt water, helping to reduce fresh water dependence and facilitating irrigation in areas that have limited fresh water supply.
The study also claims that conflicts are likely to heighten and the costs of consumer goods will soar as water becomes more scarce.
Fortunately for cities struggling with water scarcity, there are a number of measures that can be taken to slow down or even reverse access to fresh water. The simplest measure that can be taken is to develop and use the water filtration systems that provide individuals with a cleaner water supply and, on the individual level, promoting what is called ‘water stewardship.’ This entails taking shorter showers, installing low-flow toilets – or saving flushing for feces.
Other measures that can be taken to reduce water waste include: reusing graywater, which is wastewater generated in households or office buildings from streams without fecal contamination; protecting wetlands, which are natural water filtration systems; improving irrigation efficiency; increasing water storage in reservoirs; and water desalination, which is the process by which salt is removed from salt water to be used as fresh water.