Water is an essential resource to all life on Earth. However, access to and sustainable use of this resource is becoming a pressing issue as human populations increase and climate change shifts weather patterns. This week we are publishing collaborative blog posts focusing on different aspects of the world’s water crisis. We will start with an introduction to the issue and a specific policy which could turn the tide on this issue. We will also cover conflicts which arise when water is in short supply or polluted, how the environment is affected when humans extracts lots of groundwater, and a few tips on how you can become more aware of you consumption.
Explained: The World’s Water Crisis
Do you want to inform yourself on global issues and reduce your negative impact on the environment? Do you feel impending doom every time you attempt to do this? Look no further: Explained’s World Water Crisis documentary is bite-sized, informative and eye-opening.
Water is essential to all life, and in 2010 the UN dubbed adequate consumption as a human right. Despite water’s necessity, growing numbers of countries are without an adequate supply resulting in the looming threat of day zero. Water is seen as a limitless resource, after all Earth is the ‘water world’. But humans are using more and more water, in this past century alone our water use has increased seven-fold, the majority going towards agriculture and industry. Only 1% of the water on Earth is potable and most of it is packed away in groundwater aquifers which have accumulated for millennia. As the surface water is depleted and polluted more countries are turning to their groundwater supplies, for example 50% of Mexico’s water comes from their aquifers, which are being drained at rates faster than they can be replenished.
There is still the possibility of lessening the damage. A policy discussed below is raising the cost of water, as this will encourage people to value this invaluable resource. However, this of course will have the greatest impact on the poor, to bypass this is to differentially tax consumers but it will send the message that water is important and not to be wasted, leading to changes in forms of usage. South Africa has effectively put their day zero on pause after a more than 50% decrease in water usage, acting as an example to us all that change is possible.
Should We Put a Higher Price On Water?
The current scarcity of water has caused concern throughout different parts of the world. How did we get here? The truth is, as a society, we value water so little that we are wasteful with it. We think of it as a natural resource that will always be there. But as population rises and our demand for water increases, we must question the true value of water. As a solution to the undervaluation of water, specialists have proposed a raise to the price of water. And as our collective conscience for the scarcity of water grows, so does our collective conscience for human rights. While the UN declared access to sanitation and potable water a human right in 2010, almost 10 years later, millions of people around the globe do not have access to safe water at home.
So how can we talk about increasing the price of water when billions of people do not have access to water and much less the means to pay a higher price on it? The truth is, not everyone pays for water. Big agriculture businesses do not pay for water. For big agriculture producers, the cost of water is heavily subsidized by the government. For example, the meat industry does not pay for the full price of water despite being one of the largest polluters and users of water. One solution to stop the pollution and waste of water might be to charge industries the true cost of water and valuing water depending on its scarcity based on the geographic location (not all countries have the same percentage of water available to them). However, forcing industries to pay the right price for water implies higher prices in consumer goods, and, therefore, a higher cost of living for the average consumer.
Currently, there is no solution to the undervaluation of water without negatively impacting already vulnerable people and average consumers. This makes the conversation of raising the price of water daunting and complex. However, this is a conversation we must have more than ever. Water is becoming scarcer, and global demand for it is rising. In my opinion, the solution to the water crisis would involve a global effort of rethinking and restructuring the entire economic system. Specifically, a new economic system that prioritizes the well-being of all human beings instead of economic profits. It is a utopian idea that could take years to materialize but we must consider radical ideas in order to solve serious problems.
Sienna Overduin and Diana Leyva Luciano
Sustain SU Ambassadors
“Explained” The World’s Water Crisis (2018) Netflix