Water is the essence of life. Your body is mostly composed of water, approximately 60% (water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html). As a result, without water you would cease to exist. Yet, 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water (World Health Organization). The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for water and sanitation defines drinking water as: water with microbial, chemical, and physical characteristics that meet WHO guidelines and are used for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene. The collaboration further defines access to safe drinking water as a source that is less than 1 kilometer away from place of use and reliably supplies 20 liters per household member daily (http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/mdg1/en/).
One of the natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls, located in Zambia, has approximately 625 million liters of water flowing over its edge per minute (www.victoriafalls-guide.net/facts-on-victoria-falls.html). During the peak flood season, the Falls create a thunderous roar and drench all that is near. Nevertheless, UNICEF reports 4.8 million—approximately one third of the population— Zambians are without access to clean water. Moreover, insufficient drinking water and poor sanitation in the country have contributed to over 800,000 deaths related to diarrhea alone (not including other illnesses related to water issues) (World Health Organization).
In another part of the world, in the mega-city of São Paulo, Brazil, residents go days at a time without water. How did this happen to a country with access to the Amazon River, industry, a bustling tourist industry and sandy beaches? The Amazon River, the world’s largest river by volume, supplies Brazil its fresh water, yet due to urban growth, poor city planning, leaking water reservoirs, destruction of forest and wetlands, and pollution, there is a lack of safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene (Nations, 2015) . As a result, water is now being rationed and some residents may be allowed access to water only biweekly.
Unfortunately, the extent of water issues is not limited to merely a few, but is increasingly becoming a global issue impacting many—including the developed nations. Case in point, the western region of the United States of America, specifically California, has been experiencing increasing drought issues for years. In fact, it has gotten to the point that policy and regulations are being considered and implemented to limit use of water with fines for noncompliance. It will be interesting to observe how the United States, who manages numerous water programs in developing nations, resolve this issue. This is a nation of people who, for the most part, are used to having free access to water for not only basic needs, but also luxuries. And now many Americans may have to face not only regulations restricting their use of water for swimming pools, lush green lawns, washing cars, skiing, and other recreational activities, but they may also have to deal with the more serious issue of having affordable foods as the water shortage impacts the agriculture sector. It has already been estimated that California will lose $2.7 billion this year due to the current drought issues (U.C. Davis Research Project). In addition, they may have to deal with the possible increase of disease, such as West Nile Virus, and the difficulty of dealing with wildfires due to water shortages.
Of course there is much discourse regarding who or what is to blame for the impending water shortage in the US. Is it the pollution distributed into the air from numerous factories, vehicles, and farms or is it just a natural occurrence which would occur regardless of human action? Is it archaic water regulations that have not kept up with the diminishing supply of water, or is it our disregard and misuse of what we think is a never-ending supply? Regardless, we are no longer hypothesizing about the lack of water. At least 40 million Americans are actually experiencing the reduced availability of water.
Now that the problem is no longer afar, but at our front door, what do we do? This issue is not just an issue out west in the US. It is a global issue that will continue to worsen as the population of the earth increases. So now is the time for everyone, whether directly affected or not, to wake up and to encourage not just policy makers, but each of us to make behavioral changes and be more conscientious on our use and waste of this precious resource.