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Factors behind the global water crisis: Facts, consequences, and solutions

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Md. Obaidullah and Md. Sohrab Hossen*

Water is another name for our life. We cannot think of a single day without water. In the past century, the global demand for water has increased at a rate that is twice as fast as the growth of the human population. Water scarcity is already an issue for agriculture in every continent, and this poses a significant risk to the world’s ability to provide sufficient food.

UNICEF estimates that over two-thirds of the world’s population faces severe water scarcity for at least one month each year, and over two billion people are impacted by poor water supplies in their countries of residence. Moreover, WHO reports that 884 million people do not have access to clean drinking water and another study reveals; every year, 1.8 billion people are plagued by the lack of access to safe water.  As early as 2025, it is possible that half of the world’s population will be living in regions that are experiencing water scarcity and by the year 2030, severe water scarcity could force the relocation of around 700 million people.

The most striking fact is that those countries have sufficient water resources, and scarcity of water is not so uncommon there. Man-made climate change, however, is not only responsible for the water crisis, but there are many factors behind this. If this kind of situation continues, then an ominous time is coming for humanity.

In the world, merely 2.5% of the water is freshwater, and about 1% of the water is accessible only. Thus, we can feed and fuel more than 6.8 billion people using just 0.0007 per cent of the water on the earth. A water crisis occurs when a community lacks potable water, causing drought, starvation, and death. Drought-stricken regions and the African subcontinent lack safe drinking water. People spend the day walking kilometers to find it. If they get it, fortunately, they must battle waterborne infections.

There are a number of core factors responsible for the dearth of fresh water in the world, which largely affects everything- from harvesting crops to the health of homo sapiens, flora and fauna. Climate change mainly contributes to the global water crisis, expectedly. The areas most vulnerable to climate change, for instance, Somalia’s drought or Bangladesh’s severe monsoons, are sometimes water stressed. These resources become scarcer as the climate crisis worsens. Along with, deforestation causes “heat islands” that affect the surrounding land.

Additionally, droughts have degraded 80% of sub-Saharan Africa’s farmland and rising sea levels salt freshwater sources, making them undrinkable. For example, according to Bangladesh’s Soil Resources Development Institute, the total area of land impacted by salinity was 83.3 million hectares in 1973, rose to 102 million hectares in 2000, and is currently at 105.6 million hectares and is still escalating.

Natural disasters, further, are another reason behind the global water crisis. About 75 per cent of natural disasters were related to water, from the years of 2001 to 2018, a report by UNICEF says. Such as, floods and drought may knock down the sources of clean water which leads to different waterborne diseases like cholera, and diarrhea.

Besides, we don’t have adequate international cooperation regarding on shared water resources. Many waterways span the borders of more than one country, making them the de facto shared property of those nations. Dishearteningly, just 24 nations indicate that all international rivers, lakes, and groundwater sources are protected by cooperative arrangements, according to the latest update from the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Thus, it may be meaningless for one country to take all the precautions required to preserve its part of a lake clean if the waters on the opposite bank are not given the same level of care. In addition, wasting water, lack of proper infrastructure, and forced migration or refugee crisis are the factors responsible for the water crisis.

We, therefore, would like to depict several solutions to the freshwater crisis. First of all, changing consumption of water and lifestyle. The most important aspect is that people are aware of the crisis and know how to cope with it. NGOs and governments must play a significant role to ensure that everyone from a household level to the industrial level. Secondly, the control of population growth. Because of the accelerating growth in the global population, parts of the world could see a supply-demand gap of up to 65 per cent in water resources by 2030.   Thirdly, the authority concerned must have to provide clean and safe water to the needy people and the people should be trained on how to preserve rainwater during monsoon and use it later. Afterwards, concerning the global freshwater problem and the maintenance of a healthy environment around the world, governments, and NGOs need to be aware of the situation and need to make a determined effort.

*Md. Obaidullah and Md. Sohrab Hossen are working as Research Assistants at the Centre for Advanced Social Research, Dhaka.