I don’t think it is controversial to say that clean water needs to be accessible to the whole world. The United Nations (UN) has an entire sustainable development goal (SDG), clean water and sanitation, dedicated to making this a reality. However, the facts around SDG 6 are quite depressing if you compare the number with the world’s population
- 785 million people don’t even have access to basic drinking water
- 700 million people could be displaced due to intense water scarcity by 2030
- 2 billion people live in areas that are experiencing high water stress
- 1/3rd of all primary school and 1/4th of all health care facilities worldwide lack basic drinking water services
This is not to say we haven’t made progress; we have. The issue is that any development in this sector has been painfully slow. It is plagued with roadblocks and major setbacks. Before we dive into these issues, let us briefly explore what is water pollution, its sources and effects.
Lack of Access to Clean Water – Polluting Our Assets
Our earth and all of us in it lose access to clean water when one of its water bodies (e.g. lakes, rivers, oceans) gets contaminated. Water pollution happens when toxic chemicals enter these water bodies. Toxic chemicals can from a range of different sources. To name a few of these common sources –
Legal or illegal discharges from factories or sewage treatment plants
Oil spills from on-shore and off-shore pipelines
Agricultural run-off that carries toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides
All of this degrades our water quality. Water pollution is not only a massive threat to our aquatic ecosystem, but it also trickles down and mixes with our groundwater. This groundwater is what a lot of us utilize for drinking, bathing, and cleaning.
A Worldwide Crisis
It is easy to think that the lack of access to clean water is predominantly a Global South issue. Unfortunately, it is not. This is a problem that is affecting both developing and developed countries alike.
- Drinking water is being contaminated by forever toxic chemicals in West Virginia, Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans in the USA
- A town in Australia had no access to clean water for 3 months because of arsenic water contamination
- The city council in Wellington, New Zealand called for an emergency meeting to find a solution for their poor water quality
- Chennai, India suffered a severe drought in 2019 that caused widespread water shortages, which the city is still recovering from
Solution for the Clean Water Crisis
If we do not find a solution for the clean water problem, which is clearly an issue for all of us, we are going to be in a major predicament. We all stand to lose our access to clean water, our health, our aquatic ecosystem and many of our livelihoods that depend on it. So, what can we do?
As a first step, we as the people of the planet should become aware and create awareness about the clean water crisis. Taking it a step further, let us change how much water we consume and ensure we don’t waste it. This means, turning off the tap when it is not needed, having short showers, not using the bathtub, etc. We should follow the footsteps of the people who have rainwater harvesting systems at their households and truly become self-sufficient.
However, this will not be enough. Industrial water use accounts for 19% of global consumption. Corporates will need to decrease their water footprint. One of the ways they can solve this issue is by investing in water recycling infrastructure for their buildings. An indirect way they can support this cause is by investing in water conservation technologies. These are tools that can help reduce water scarcity by finding ways to conserve, distribute and improve the quality of clean water. These technologies will play a major role in solving the water challenge that is plaguing our farmers.
None of the above solutions will work if there are no strict policies and regulations that address the water pollution problem. Factories should not be allowed to discharge polluted water into our environment without facing serious repercussions. They should be regulatorily required to treat their water in an environmentally friendly way. These factories can also self-regulate themselves, which in my opinion would be the most encouraging and wholesome thing to witness.
It is evident that the clean water crisis cannot be solved by a single group of people. In a way, it is poetic because it is an issue that is affecting all of us. So, it is only reasonable that I ask, we will need to set aside our differences and work together to save our collective future.
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