A crisis confronts the world, a crisis involving one of the few things that humans cannot live without: water. A shortage of fresh water means an international health dilemma. This dilemma most directly affects developing countries, whose inhabitants sometimes have to go to unthinkable lengths to access clean water, if it is available at all.
So where did this crisis come from? The first factor contributing to the crisis is the significant population growth of the 20th century. During this time frame the population has grown tremendously, more than tripling. The second factor is the gradual depletion of natural water resources. With increased demand and decreasing supply, this issue is becoming more and more prevalent in developing countries. The last contributing factor, sadly, is our own ability to ignore issues that do not yet directly affect us. The simple fact is that people are not focused on the water crisis if they and their loved ones are not currently impacted by it. When looking at this issue as a whole, it’s easy to see how essential it is for all of us to play a role in addressing this global issue.
Here are a few facts about the water crisis from water.org:
- More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 99%, occur in the developing world.
- Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.
- Half of the hospital beds in the world are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.
- It is estimated that nearly 10% of the global disease burden could be reduced through improved water supply, sanitation, hygiene, and water resource management.
- 88% of global cases of diarrhea are estimated to be attributable to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.
- 90% of the deaths due to diarrheal diseases are children under 5 years old, mostly in developing countries.
- People living in slums often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.
It’s all too easy to read these overwhelming facts and ask, “But what can I do about it?” The answer: a lot! Go to water.org and find out how Matt Damon (yes, that Matt Damon) and this organization are making a difference, and how you can help their efforts.
Another issue regarding water is the impact that drinking bottled water has on our planet. Here are a few of nine important questions the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) posted on their website:
1. Isn't bottled water safer than tap water?
No, not necessarily. NRDC conducted a four-year review of the bottled water industry and the safety standards that govern it, including a comparison of national bottled water rules with national tap water rules, and independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water. Our conclusion is that there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. And in fact, an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle – sometimes further treated, sometimes not.
2. How does drinking bottled water affect the environment?
In 2006, the equivalent of 2 billion half-liter bottles of water were shipped to U.S. ports, creating thousands of tons of global warming pollution and other air pollution. In New York City alone, the transportation of bottled water from Western Europe released an estimated 3,800 tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere. In California, 18 million gallons of bottled water were shipped in from Fiji in 2006, producing about 2,500 tons of global warming pollution.
And while the bottles come from far away, most of them end up close to home – in a landfill. Most bottled water comes in recyclable PET plastic bottles, but only about 13 percent of the bottles we use get recycled. In 2005, 2 million tons of plastic water bottles ended up clogging landfills instead of getting recycled.
3. If I drink tap water, should I use a filter and what types of filters are most effective?
The real long-term solution is to make tap water safe for everyone. But if you know you have a tap water quality or taste problem, or want to take extra precautions, you should purchase filters certified by NSF International (800 NSF-MARK). These filters designate which contaminants they remove, and you can look for one that removes any contaminants of special concern such as cryptosporidium. Such certification is not necessarily a safety guarantee, but it is better than no certification at all. It is critically important that all filters be maintained and replaced at least as often as recommended by the manufacturer, or they might make the problem worse. See our guide to water filters for more information.
Changing the World, One Drop at a Time
While the water problem may not directly impact any one that you know, there are still ways that you can ensure you are doing your part to care for our world and its people. Two great ways to start: visit water.org to learn how you can help those without access to clean drinking water, and cut back on drinking bottled water to reduce excess waste. So, the next time you find yourself thirsty and reaching for water on a hot summer’s day, remember: the way we use this essential resource affects everyone.
Written by University Staff