Facts and solutions to the growing freshwater crisis – Part I
For most people in the U.S. and Canada, accessing clean, fresh water takes nothing more than turning on a faucet. That’s not the case in other parts of the world (and even here – just ask the residents of Flint, Michigan, California’s Central Valley or Native American and First Nations reserves across the continent). If we don’t act now, easy access to clean water may not be the case anywhere for long.
We face a real and growing water crisis. Consider these facts:
- Only three percent of the earth’s water is freshwater, and less than 1.5% of that is readily available to fuel our environment, communities and industry.
- With that small portion, we must provide for the human right to water, which is defined by the CEO Global Water Mandate as follows: water should be available to every person at the right quantity (50-100 liters per person per day), at the right distance (50-100 meters between the point of use and the point of collection), at the right quality (World Health Organization water quality guidelines), at the right price (less than three percent of household income) and at an acceptable taste.
- Even though the recommended amount of water for each person is about 100 liters per day, many developed countries use much more. In the U.S., the average person uses 550 liters of water daily. Consumption will continue to go up as the population grows and standards of living improve. http://www.data360.org/dsg.aspx?Data_Set_Group_Id=757
Agriculture uses 70 percent of freshwater globally, which intuitively makes sense. But other essential industries are also significant consumers of water. A typical semiconductor plant, for example, can use two to four million gallons (or 7.6 to 15.2 million liters) of highly purified water per day, the rough equivalent of the water usage of a city of 40,000-50,000 people.
Freshwater supplies are being compromised by pollution, population growth, increased per capita consumption and the fact that around the globe, an average 80 percent of wastewater is not collected or treated. We rely on infrastructure and engineering from an era when we assumed water would always be abundant. Incredibly, global demand for freshwater is now expected to outstrip supply by as much as 40 percent by 2030.
Water risk is real and multidimensional, and mismanaging limited freshwater supplies has dire social, environmental and economic implications. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2016 Report placed the water crisis as the third-most impactful risk in years to come, behind only the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and weapons of mass destruction. The report details the impact on economies, environments and people and shows a clear connection between water management and risks such as rapid and massive spread of infectious diseases, extreme weather events and interstate conflict.
The world needs answers and, indeed, there is progress. Companies, governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are starting to work together to protect watersheds, design more resilient cities and improve efficiencies. We must do more, however, do it more quickly and do it consistently with partners to multiply our impact exponentially. We must learn to collaborate instead of compete. I attended the BusinessH2O Summit in December, and came away both inspired and concerned. I was inspired by the innovations in water management technology and policy, but concerned by the apparent lack of collaboration I believe is needed to accelerate local water conservation efforts.
We know about water scarcity and its risks. There is no reason not to accept the mandate to work together, make the right decisions and invest in our water future. To do otherwise will lead to a world where water is unfishable, undrinkable and unswimmable. While that might seem unthinkable, we must act now to avoid these consequences.
For inspiration in the face of our challenges, in my next posts I will outline some of the most revolutionary innovations in technology, policy, partnership, collaboration and culture leading the water stewardship revolution. Don't miss them.
Let’s make water our purpose. – NELSON