When you look at Earth from space one of the most striking features is how much water there is, 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. Unfortunately 97% of that water is salt water in the world’s oceans and seas. The remaining 3% of the water is fresh water, but 75% of that is locked up in the polar ice caps and glaciers, leaving only a quarter of the Earth’s fresh water available for use. Much of the life on the planet is dependent on fresh water including 6.8 billion humans, but with continued population growth and shrinking water supplies, a crisis could be looming.
According to an International Water Management Institute report, Comprehensive Assessments of Water Management in Agriculture, more than 1.2 billion people or about one-fifth of the world’s population currently live in areas with water scarcity, meaning they do not have enough water to meet everyone’s daily needs. This is a figure that will almost certainly rise as the world’s population grows, more underground aquifers are depleted, and climate change intensifies both drought and flooding.
Today on World Water Day we have an opportunity to reflect on the amount of water available for use, its quality, and the life it supports. For this year’s World Water Day, the U.N. chose the theme of “Clean Water for a Healthy World” to emphasize “that both the quality and quantity of water resources are at risk.”
One of the biggest threats to water quality is that millions of tons of inadequately treated sewage, agricultural waste, and industrial waste are dumped into rivers and lakes every day. This trend will only be exacerbated if the world’s population grows and sanitation systems fail to keep up. Water contamination is already a severe problem in developing countries, where 80% of the sewage gets dumped directly into bodies of water. The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that 2.5 billion people live without improved sanitation.
The U.N. also reports that water pollution is responsible for more deaths than all forms of violence, including war. Every year, 1.5 million children die because of unsafe water. Nearly 1 in 5 child deaths are due to diarrhea, making it the second leading cause of child mortality (WHO). It is unacceptable that a child dies every 15 seconds (UNICEF and WHO) because of unsafe water, but with population growing rapidly in some of the world’s least developed countries, the problem could get much worse without a major investment in sanitation infrastructure.
While population growth poses many challenges, water scarcity is one of the greatest. On this World Water Day let’s remember that water is essential to all life on this planet and without clean water a healthy future is in doubt.
Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager