Are we running out of water?
Recent reports on droughts in Cape Town and Hong Kong and people scrambling to ration their water supplies, have brought up the topic of water scarcity. In early 2018, residents of Cape Town, South Africa, were restricted to only 50 litres of water per person per day. They were encouraged to flush toilets less often using non-potable water and reduce the length and frequency of showers. In Hong Kong, no rain signals were issued in the month of May, resulting in high temperatures and low reservoir levels.
Water is the world’s most precious, yet most wasted resource. It’s essential for the development and maintenance of all life on Earth. We use water for agriculture, industrial, household, recreational and environmental activities.
Currently, there are 7.5 billion people on Earth. Of this, 844 million people lack access to clean and affordable water. As the world’s water needs grow, water scarcity becomes a concern. Water scarcity can be caused by climate change bringing about droughts, floods, and uncertainty on water availability, which are exacerbated by population growth, pollution and poor water management.
Water scarcity is becoming one of the most crucial challenges to a country’s sustainable development and is a socio-economical issue. In India, limited policy action on proper water management has led to rapidly declining groundwater levels, that is likely to become a significant food security risk for the country. When water needs to be rationed (e.g. lesser hand washing, water stored in contaminated containers), there are concerns by public health professionals on diseases spread via faecal-oral contamination. This will limit efforts to end extreme poverty, where contaminated water and lack of basic sanitation are often the cause.
Often time, the most effective ways to manage water resources are the simplest. They do not have to be expensive, novel technological solutions. Existing technology such as filters, pumps and rainwater collectors need to be properly managed to help us use water efficiently.
Other ways can include intensifying research in more efficient and alternative water systems which may help prevent other cities from falling into the water scarcity situation like in Cape Town and Hong Kong.
All stakeholders, the government, scientists, industry and the community must play a role. Water literacy programmes may help educate farmers, the public, and other stakeholders on improving water use efficiency through methods including proper rainwater harvesting and recycling of waste water.
Lim Guan Yu
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