Solutions to the Global Water Crisis
The Earth is in a water crisis. Of all the water on Earth, only 2.5% is fresh water. The other 97.5 percent is salt water. Of that water, 70% is locked in glacial ice, and another 30% is in the soil. That leaves 0.007% of the total water on Earth easily accessible for human consumption.
A panel of experts was asked: “What are the technologies or changes in behavior which show the most promise for addressing water shortages over the next 10 years?” Their responses generated 19 consensus solutions.
Population growth, urban development, farm production and climate change are increasing competition for fresh water and producing shortages. Here’s a look at the areas where experts feel needed solutions will come.
1. Address pollution.
Pollution is a huge problem, and is growing around the world. Measuring and monitoring water quality is essential to human health and biodiversity.
2. Climate change mitigation.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “water management policies and measures can have an influence on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
3. Look to community-based governance and partnerships.
Effective grassroots governance gives communities stature: this can often lead to effective policy changes on a national scale.
4. Invent new water conservation technologies.
Innovation is necessary in places where aquifers are drying up and rainwater is becoming more unreliable.
5. Develop and enact better policies and regulations.
Governments must redefine their role. Most people say it is a responsibility of the government to make sure that communities have access to clean water.
6. Improve distribution infrastructure.
Poor infrastructure has a devastating effect on health and the economy. It wastes resources, adds costs, diminishes the quality of life, and allows preventable water-borne diseases to spread among vulnerable populations, especially children. These problems do not exist only in the developing world: pipes burst on a regular basis in the U.S., prompting boil alerts; sewage treatment systems regularly overflow and malfunction, causing beach closures.
7. Build international frameworks and institutional cooperation.
Although international agreements are hard to enforce, policymakers and advocates need to keep trying. Humanitarian-oriented treaties, such as the U.N.’s drinking water Millennium Development Goals, clearly show that comprehensive global water strategies are possible.
8. Improve irrigation and agricultural practices.
Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of world water use. Irrigation practices that might have worked in a previous era are no longer sustainable.
9. Educate to change consumption and lifestyles.
Education is the key. New behaviors will have to be learned. People will have to get used to new methods of water consumption.
10. Shrink corporate water footprints.
Industry uses about 22 percent of global water consumption. Corporations can do many things tor educe their water footprint. The sustainability of the bottled water industry is increasingly being questioned.
11. Population growth control.
As the world’s population continues to grow, many places will see a supply-demand gap of up to 65 percent in water resources. At the present time, over one billion people don’t have access to clean water. And since 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture, water’s critical role in food production must be considered as climate and resource conditions change.
12. Public common resources/equitable access.
Access to drinking water is a critical issue: water is a basic right. U.S. politicians are considering how access rights translate into federal protection of Lake Michigan, one of the world’s largest reserves of freshwater.
13. Recycle wastewater.
Wastewater treatment is now a leading issue around the world. Some countries are developing systems to recycle waster water or to cut water imports.
14. Develop energy efficient desalination plants.
Many countries, especially in the Middle East, are building desalination plants to turn sea water into drinkable water. Since water desalination uses a lot of energy, some countries are switching to solar-powered desalination plants. And where the water is cold, such as in California, it takes a lot more energy to operate a desalination plant.
15. Water projects in developing countries/transfer of technology.
Climate change and water scarcity are producing the most dramatic consequences in developing regions, such as northwest India and Sub-Saharan Africa. One solution: to transfer water conservation technologies to these dryer areas. This may be difficult to do where economies are weak.
16. Appropriately price water.
The OECD says that raising water prices will help reduce waste and pollution. US studies indicate that water pricing in the US is obsolete and should be reformed.
17. Improve water catchment and harvesting.
In places where there are no reliable water sources, efficient water catchment systems must be built and maintained.
Access to water will become a much higher priority in a water-scarce world. Communities will pursue public-private partnerships that draw on the innovative capacities of companies.
19. Holistically manage ecosystems.
Holistic management applies to a practical, common-sense approach to overseeing natural resources that takes into account economic, cultural, and ecological goals.