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Sunday, 22 March 2015

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Today is World Water Day:

Every drop counts!

Water is the essence of life. We cannot exist without liquid water. In fact, no living being can exist without this magical combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Across the universe, there could be many other planets with liquid water where life thrives in some form.

Today, people around the globe mark World Water Day (WWD). It was in 1993 that the United Nations General Assembly designated March 22 as the World Water Day. It is a day to celebrate water which is at the core of sustainable development. This year will also mark the culmination of the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ which began in 2005.

Water resources, and the range of services they provide, underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability.

From food and energy security to human and environmental health, water contributes to improvements in social well-being and inclusive growth, affecting the livelihoods of billions. Water is the foundation of health, food and agriculture, energy, nature, industry and development.

Water appears to be an infinite resource, but if we continue to mismanage the world’s water, especially freshwater, the world will be in for a severe water shortage in the coming years. Water makes up more than 75 percent of our planet, but freshwater amounts to only a fraction of this vast amount of water.

Desalination plants are extremely expensive and are not an option for most countries, especially landlocked ones.

It is thus vital to preserve the world’s freshwater resources and use it in a sustainable manner. Globally, agriculture and livestock sector is the largest user of water, accounting for 70% of total usage.

Swimming pool

Did you know that more water is needed to make a car than to fill a swimming pool? Did you know that 15,000 litres of water are needed to produce just 500 grammes of meat? Even more shockingly, seven litres of water are needed to make a one litre plastic bottle containing water. These are just two statistics that prove just how much water is needed even for things that are not normally associated with water right away.

In his message on WWD 2015, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted why global action is necessary to conserve water. “The onset of climate change, growing demand on finite water resources from agriculture, industry and cities, and increasing pollution in many areas are hastening a water crisis that can only be addressed by cross-sectoral, holistic planning and policies - internationally, regionally and globally.” The UN and other agencies plan to make clean water available to all seven billion people at least by 2030.

Accessibility

It is still not a question of the availability of water, but rather a question of accessibility. Despite progress under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000, some 750 million people - more than one in 10 of the world’s population - remain without access to an improved water supply. Women and children, in particular, are affected by this as hours are wasted in the unproductive and sometimes dangerous task of collecting water from miles away.

An estimated 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is contaminated by human and animal waste, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation. But access to clean drinking water alone is not enough. Water is essential for sanitation. More than 2.5 billion people still live without improved sanitation, and a billion people practise open defecation. Little success has been made in this particular set of MDGs but researchers are working on technologies that could bring pure water to more communities.

For example, researchers at the Purdue University, Indiana, USA, have devised a system that continuously disinfects water using solar UV radiation which damages waterborne pathogens’ nucleic acids and proteins so that they cannot replicate or cause infections.

Moreover, the system is suitable for areas in the developing world which do not have electricity as the system controls water flow without requiring electrical energy.

Impact

Another factor affecting the Earth’s supply of water is climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions will have to significantly decline to avert the worst impacts of climate change, which include changed weather patterns and the threat of water scarcity in large parts of the world.

Climate change negatively impacts fresh water sources. Current projections show that freshwater-related risks rise significantly with increasing greenhouse gas emissions, aggravating competition for water among all users, affecting regional water, energy and food security.

Some parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a severe water shortage. According to the Los Angeles Times, “right now the state of California has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing.


Cool cascades of fresh falling water

California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”

That is apparently the last resort for people in many areas who have not experienced rain for years. Rainfall patterns have changed, affecting many ecosystems whose water cycle is essential to sustain life. The cutting down of forests and the construction of dams without heeding environmental concerns have made matters worse.

Development itself may affect the groundwater tables, as demonstrated by the Uma Oya project here in Sri Lanka.

Freshwater

It is essential to make prudent use of the world’s freshwater resources, one step at a time.

This should start at individual level where each person can make an effort to cut down on the personal consumption of water. For example, you can turn off the tap when you brush your teeth - this can save six litres of water per minute. Use a watering can to water your plants instead of using the hose which can output a staggering 1,000 litres per hour.

You can even take a shorter shower - a showerhead can use anything between six and 45 litres per minute. One can imagine the savings if these actions are magnified society wide.

Saving water is not difficult at all but needs a firm commitment from individuals, corporates and governments.

Development will only be possible if we use our dwindling water resources in a sustainable manner.

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