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Monday, September 25, 2023

Water: Disappearance of the blue gold

Water they say is a source of life, which means that green depends on blue. From space our planet appears to be more oceans than earth, but despite water covering seventy one per cent of our planet’s surface, more than half the world’s population have had to endure extreme water scarcity for at least one month a year. According to research, by 2040 twenty more countries could experience water shortages.

South Sudan water
A South Sudanese boy drinking polluted water

If we are to answer the question “are we running out of clean water”? The answer is, “not really”. At a planetary scale Earth cannot run out of fresh water thanks to the water cycle, a system that continually produces and recycles water, from vapour to liquid and then to ice as it circulates around the Globe. So, it isn’t a question of how much water there is, it is that of how accessible it is to us.

Ninety-seven per cent of earth’s liquid is salt water, too loaded with minerals for humans to drink or use for agriculture. The remaining three per cent of potentially usable fresh water, more than two thirds is frozen in ice caps and glaciers, which leaves less than one per cent for the sustenance of all life on earth. Cape Town was one of the major cities in the World to run out of water. They planned to indefinitely shut down water supply which means four million people would stop getting running water.

Major cities in the world will certainly follow suit if they do not change their water usage behaviours. People have the perception that the tap will never run dry but for some what they see in a glass cup is solid gold. Kuwait is one of the poorest countries in terms of water per capita but Canada one of the richest. Around 90 per cent of the world’s population lives less than ten kilometres from a fresh water source.

Many people in different parts of the globe suffer not just from scarcity of water but from lack of clean water. Children and adults alike in many parts of Uganda have to walk for kilometres to get water for use. The water that some are able to get from wells far away is so dirty but they have to drink and cook with it anyway. Many of them get infected with stomach ache and diarrheal diseases.

Women and children in Ethiopia have to walk for long hours to get water for their families, the walk exhausting and the water unclean. The road to the water sources is rocky and steep, with excruciating heat and a high foot elevation journey. Water sources are quite upsetting because animals come to drink the water at the same time humans are trying to fill their containers up.

A stream is where thousands of people go to collect water; women have to wait in line for long hours to fetch water, one scoop at a time. A stranger who had tried to get water along with a little girl in Ethiopia gave his account of the journey in a few words, “sweaty, exhausting and miserable”. He was a grown man by the way; he instantly fell to the ground after carrying a 20-litre gallon of water and kept breathing like a man clinging on to dear life.

According to UNICEF, two-thirds of the people in Gaza drink contaminated water and only less than five per cent of the available water there is good to drink. Children have to take very long walks to get water for daily use by their families. Women in India tell the same story, with dry taps and sources of drinking water far and usually congested, their daily struggle for water is one nightmare they hope to wake up from.

Researches have shown that eight out of ten people in rural areas still get by without a decent source of drinkable water. That totals to around 664 million people whose lives would have been made easier, healthier and safer if they weren’t been denied a fundamental human right of basic water supply. The story of unclean and inaccessible water is one that resonates with women and children in most low income countries globally.

Due to lack of access to water over 900 million people have to defecate out in the open, some close to streams where others get their contaminated but drinking water. This has led to an increase in diarrheal disease, Cholera, Schisostomiasis (Bilharzia) usually found in Tropical Africa and some parts of the Middle East. The city of Flint in Michigan in the United States has its water termed “Flint’s deadly water” by most news headlines because it hasn’t just made people sick due to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease but have claimed lives too.

As our global population increases so does our water consumption level, this century has seen water consumption increase seven fold. Rain and snow are not so reliable anymore due to climate change. Climate change is making available water more erratic, many areas around the World are experiencing a higher dry season than ever. A research says 783 million people in the World lack access to clean water, that’s not the alarming part though; it’s that 37 per cent of those people live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Billions of people worldwide are either at risk of not having access to water, not having clean water, open defecation and infection from deadly illnesses associated with contaminated water and non-existent sanitary living conditions, and like always women and girls are the most vulnerable in all of these. People must be educated to change their water consumption life style, especially in advanced countries where clean water is accessible. From individuals to big corporations, they must all realise that their water wastage culture has a ripple effect.

Water recycling has to be inculcated globally, when rain water for example is recycled it helps saves people from having to travel long distances to get water. We must learn to improve practices of farming related to irrigation; water conservation technology has to now go hand in hand with irrigation practices. Chemicals used in farming could lead to underground water pollution; farmers should be educated on compost making and soil revitalising methods of farming.

Improvement of sewage disposal systems and water distribution infrastructure has to be put in place. The government should provide water for their citizens, monitor and maintain clean water sources and make water a priority. Policies that provide, conserve and preserve water must be formulated by those at the helm of affairs. Every single person on earth has a right to clean and healthy water and those who we have submitted our collective sovereignty should wake up to their responsibility.

By Halima Imam; Founder, Climate Action Team; axk4lima@gmail.com

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