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Why is drinking water scarce?

Published on Mar 22, 2023
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Water — an interesting thing, isn’t it?

Most often colourless, it is something that can satisfy our thirst, grow crops, generate electricity, can be used with a lot of other foods and is an important ingredient in all our soft drinks. Most importantly, it is easily available. Or is it?

In this blog, on the day of World Water Day, we discuss all water and the shortages in its supply chain.

About three-fourths of the earth is covered with water. As abundant as it sounds, not all of it can be used for drinking or irrigation purposes, for which we’ve got to depend on freshwater. Freshwater constitutes 3% of the total world’s water and in fact, two-thirds of it is stuffed in the glaciers, thus making water precious.

About 1.1bn people worldwide lacking access to water and about 4bn people (almost half of the world population) facing shortages in access to water for at least one month, as per WWF and UNESCO.

And this leads to an important question

Why is there a shortage in water access?

Over centuries, most of the communities settled along the banks of the rivers, close to lakes or near the sea coasts because water forms an important part of our survival. It is an obvious choice to be close to it, no?

Wondering how Sahara became inhabitable to some? Well, the communities there also tend to live near the Oasis or in Thar desert-based cities, they’ve built manmade lakes and step wells to store water too.

As the population across the world exploded coupled with industrialization and migration, things became different. A lake which once fed a community of 100 people is now forced to serve 200 or more. More agriculture to satisfy world hunger also leads to increased water usage for irrigation. And as unplanned industrialization happened in many parts of the world, it led to misuse of the available freshwater and indeed, pollution of the freshwater

Sanitation of water, if not managed properly, also leads to diseases. In fact, 2.4 bn people worldwide are exposed to diseases like Typhoid and Cholera.

With industrialization and intense agriculture came Deforestation.

Trees bind with soil to hold runaway water during rains. But deforestation leads to floods. And the flood water not being stored or provided a way to discharge into groundwater in many cities, they are left to join runaway rivers and seas.

Source: WRI

Changing climate

Climate change as you all know is warming the planet, making the world’s hottest geographies even more scorching with the heat. As WRI states, “At the same time, clouds are moving away from the equator toward the poles, due to a climate-change driven phenomenon called Hadley Cell expansion. This deprives equatorial regions like sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central America of life-giving rainwater.”

Lack of groundwater

Source: WRI

With many cities growing out of proportion and less freshwater being available, it is leading to excess pressure on the water supply.

Land subsidence

Less groundwater also leads to the sinking of the land, as there is a gap forming in the layers of the earth due to low amounts of groundwater. California, which is known for intense agriculture and discharge of groundwater, has observed sinking/ subsidence of land in many parts of the state. The sinking of land can mean many things.

As per Shagun Garg (a civil engineer and researcher at the University of Cambridge) report in Scroll, “if the sinking of land is spread over a wide region, then it may mean that the area may become prone to flooding. But in cases where the rate of sinking is differential, it may impact the civil infrastructure like roads, buildings, and houses. It might lead to the weakening of foundations or develop cracks in the buildings.”

As per the above image, Garg reported, “National Capital Region Delhi faces a severe water crisis due to increasing water demand. This map analyses hazard risk and vulnerability, highlighting an approximate area of 100 sq km to be subjected to the highest risk level of ground movement, demanding urgent attention”

The report also stated,

To estimate the real impacts of land subsidence at a particular location, computational data, overlapped with detailed ground analysis is required. Nevertheless, it is estimated that by 2040, land subsidence will affect about 8% of the world’s surface and about 1.2 billion inhabitants living in 21% of the major cities worldwide.

Like many other disasters, it is predicted that land subsidence will impact Asia more than other parts of the world. With 86% of the Asian population exposed to the effects of land subsidence, about $8.17 trillion is potentially at stake.

Day Zero

In fact, there is a term called Day Zero, a day when there wouldn’t be any water supply. In fact, Cape Town had its day Day Zero on 12th April 2018 and we covered this incident on this blog.

But this isn’t the only city in the world that had its threat of stoppage in the water supply.

Chennai has also come to Day Zero in 2019.

So, as the world moves towards improving the economic and social status of every individual, we must value what we take for granted, WATER, and improve its access as much as possible.

Written by Zodhya

About Zodhya

We are Zodhya, a start-up that provides AI-based tech to reduce energy bills and lower emissions for commercial buildings and industries.