New data recently published by the World Resources Institute states that 17 countries are currently under “extremely high-water stress.” Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Only 17 of 195 countries worldwide? That’s not too bad.” You may also be thinking, “Water stress doesn’t sound horrible—after all, stress isn’t a breaking point.”
When we get into a few more details, you’ll be able to better appreciate why these findings are concerning.
- The 17 countries we’re talking about are home to 25% of the earth’s population. Countries like India, Iran and Botswana.
- Research also shows that, among major global cities—those with a population of 3 million or more—33 are in the grips of extremely high-water stress. All told, that’s a population of more than 255 million people, who are living, or more accurately, attempting to live, in this condition.
- The definition of “extremely high-water stress” means that these populations are using almost all the water they have. In fact, several cities—including Sao Paulo, Chennai and Cape Town—have narrowly escaped what is termed “Day Zero,” the day all the water sources run dry.
Water Street has posted many blogs that have you “imagining waking up one day, turning on the tap to brush your teeth, and nothing comes out.” In countries with extremely high-water stress, this isn’t an “imagine it” situation; the reality of having no water is imminent. That means no water for essential needs —drinking, bathing, and sanitation – and forget about the simple things in life that we take for granted such as washing the dog, watering the plants or enjoying a cup of tea. Moreover, when there is no water for hygiene or other critical needs, it will not be a situation to say, “I’ll just wait a few hours, and it will get better.” The water crisis for these populations has no quick fix.
What I find most disheartening, but also most promising about the looming water crisis, is that studies suggest much of it has been brought on by behaviors—and if behaviors spurred it, then changes in behaviors can better it. Certainly droughts, unpredictable rainfall and excessive heat brought on by climate change aren’t within people’s immediate control. But other problems in these water-crisis areas are the result of poor management of water systems, resources and use. This includes everything from utilizing natural water resources as a dumping ground for a city’s waste to not addressing leaks in water distribution systems to lacking adequate water recycling processes to drawing too much ground water too quickly, a practice that is literally causing land in Mexico City to sink.
Lastly, we must keep in mind the impact that not finding solutions for these water-crisis areas will have on us, both here in the U.S. and globally. For example, most of the 17 countries are in the Middle East—the world’s primary source of oil and gas. A looming water crisis isn’t “their problem.” It is ours. It is up to everyone to share knowledge, technology and best practices. Change won’t be easy, but as we’ve seen time and again, it is possible!