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Impact of Water on...

Water covers about two-thirds of the Earth's surface, admittedly. But most is too salty for use.

Population is rising, but water supplies are not. Only 2.5% of the world's water is not salty, and two-thirds of that is locked up in the icecaps and glaciers. Of what is left, about 20% is in remote areas, and much of the rest arrives at the wrong time and place, as monsoons and floods.  Humans have available less than 0.08% of all the Earth's water. Yet over the next two decades our use is estimated to increase by about 40%. Water shortages set to grow In 1999 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that 200 scientists in 50 countries had identified water shortage as one of the two most worrying problems for the new millennium (the other was global warming).  We use about 70% of the water we have in agriculture. But the World Water Council believes that by 2020 we shall need 17% more water than is available if we are to feed the world.

So if we continue to move as we are, millions more will go to bed hungry and thirsty each night than do so already. Today, one person in five across the world has no access to safe drinking water, and one in two lacks safe sanitation. Today and every day, more than 30,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthdays, killed either by hunger or by easily-preventable diseases. And adequate safe water is the key to good health and a proper diet. In China, for example, it takes 1,000 tonnes of water to produce one tonne of wheat. 

Inefficiency behind water crisis. There are several reasons for the water crisis. One is the simple rise in population, and the desire for better living standards. In China it takes 1,000 tonnes of water to produce one tonne of wheat 
Another is the inefficiency of the way we use much of our water. Irrigation allows wastage on a prodigal scale, with the water trickling away or simply evaporating before it can do any good. And pollution is making more of the water that is available to us unfit for use. The Aral Sea in central Asia is one of the starkest examples of what pollution can do, to the land as well as the water.  Increasingly, governments are seeking to solve their water problems by turning away from reliance on rainfall and surface water, and using subterranean supplies of groundwater instead. But that is like making constant withdrawals from a bank account without ever paying anything into it. 

Looking for solutions. And using up irreplaceable groundwater does not simply mean the depletion of a once-and-for-all resource. Rivers, wetlands and lakes that depend on it can dry out. Saline seawater can flow in to replace the fresh water that has been pumped out. 

Pumping groundwater is like making constant withdrawals from a bank account without ever paying anything into it And the emptied underground aquifers can be compressed, causing surface subsidence - a problem familiar in Bangkok, Mexico City and Venice. 
There are some ways to begin to tackle the problem. Irrigation systems which drip water directly onto plants are one, precision sprinklers another. There will be scope to plant less water-intensive crops, and perhaps desalination may play a part - though it is energy-hungry and leaves quantities of brine for disposal. Climate change will probably bring more rain to some regions and less to others, and its overall impact remains uncertain. 
But if we are to get through the water crisis, we should heed the UNEP report's reminder that we have only one interdependent planet to share. It said: "The environment remains largely outside the mainstream of everyday human consciousness, and is still considered an add-on to the fabric of life."

3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease !!

43% of water-related deaths are due to diarrhea. 

84% of water-related deaths are in children ages 0 – 14. 

98% of water-related deaths occur in the developing world. 

The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease. An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the typical person living in a developing country slum uses in a whole day. About a third of people without access to an improved water source live on less than $1 a day. More than two thirds of people without an improved water source live on less than $2 a day. Poor people living in the slums often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city. Without food a person can live for weeks, but without water you can expect to live only a few days. 

Sanitation 

2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 1.2 billion people who have no facilities at all. The majority of the illness in the world is caused by fecal matter. 
Lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection. At any one time, more than half of the poor in the developing world are ill from causes related to hygiene, sanitation and water supply. The Global Water Crisis  88% of cases of diarrhea worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene. Only 62% of the world’s population has access to improved sanitation – defined as a sanitation facility that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. Of the 60 million people added to the world’s towns and cities every year, most occupy impoverished slums and shanty-towns with no sanitation facilities. 

Impacts on children. 

Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. 
Children in poor environments often carry 1,000 parasitic worms in their bodies at any time. 
1.4 million children die as a result of diarrhea each year. 
90% of all deaths caused by diarrheal diseases are children under 5 years of age, mostly in developing countries. 

Impacts on women 

Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources. 
A study by the International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC) of community water and sanitation projects in 88 communities found that projects designed and run with the full participation of women are more sustainable and effective than those that do not. This supports an earlier World Bank study that found that women’s participation was strongly associated with water and sanitation project effectiveness. 

Evidence shows that women are responsible for half of the world’s food production (as opposed to cash crops) and in most developing countries, rural women produce between 60-80 percent of the food. Women also have an important role in establishing sustainable use of resources in small-scale fishing communities, and their knowledge is valuable for managing and protecting watersheds and wetlands. 

Impacts on productivity

  • On average, every US dollar invested in water and sanitation provides an economic return of eight US dollars.
  • An investment of US$ 11.3 billion per year is needed to meet the drinking water and sanitation target of the Millennium Development Goals, yielding a total payback for US$ 84 billion a year. 

Other estimated economic benefits of investing in drinking-water and sanitation:

  • 272 million school attendance days a year
  • 1.5 billion healthy days for children under five years of age
  • Values of deaths averted, based on discounted future earnings, amounting to US$ 3.6 billion a year
  • Health-care savings of US$ 7 billion a year for health agencies and US$ 340 million for individuals  

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