What Are The Causes Of The Global Water Crisis?
When government leaders met at the UN 2023 Water Conference earlier this year, it was the first time countries seemed to agree there is a global water crisis that needs to be addressed.
In March, the first UN water conference in a generation took place in New York, uniting communities all over the world with the belief that action needs to be taken to protect the most important natural resource on the planet.
Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, said: “The UN 2023 Water Conference in March must result in a bold Water Action Agenda that gives our world’s lifeblood the commitment it deserves.”
Although less developed nations have been trying to raise awareness of diminishing water supplies for decades, it is only now that wealthier nations have jumped on board and realised everywhere is feeling water-related challenges.
The UN conference really expressed the urgency of the global water crisis, forcing political leaders from all over the world to commit to slowing down ailing supplies by changing profit-making systems that are threatening the planet.
What are the causes of the global water crisis?
While everyone, from politicians to citizens, is becoming increasingly aware of the global water crisis, less is known about its root causes.
- Exploitation of the planet
One of the main reasons why the world is running out of water supplies is because humans have spent so long exploiting the planet.
For hundreds of years, we have failed to take care of it enough to protect the environment. Instead, we have chopped down forests, changed the landscape for our own needs, and caused a huge amount of pollution.
Indeed, pollution is a huge factor in the water crisis for many reasons. Contaminating water makes it unsafe for human consumption, which means clean water needs to be sourced elsewhere.
Pollutants do not just ruin the quality of the water, but can seep through river or seabeds, reaching the groundwater. This means water that comes through taps could be unsafe to use for years after it has been contaminated.
Big businesses are the worst for polluting waterways, with large-scale industrial production resulting in chemical byproducts contaminating lakes, rivers and even oceans.
Agricultural industries also cause pollution with their pesticides and fertilisers, which seep into rivers, while human wastewater ruins the quality of fresh water supplies.
- Growth in population
The rate of population growth has also had an impact on water availability, as demand for water has never been greater.
Human population has doubled in the last 50 years, which has not only put more pressure on water resources, but has resulted in rapid industrialisation, increasing pollution and speeding up climate change.
- Focus on profit
The reason why large companies have not acted sooner to prevent water damage is that they have been too focused on making a profit.
The same can be said for powerful countries, which have concentrated on their own agenda in order to keep industries growing, instead of helping the poorest nations with their declining resources.
According to Project Syndicate: “The increasingly symbiotic relationship between politics and big business interests complicates [the task of adopting sustainable practices].”
As governments have not forced companies to make environmentally friendly changes to protect water resources, they simply have not made any.
- Global temperature rises
The rise in global temperature has also exacerbated the water crisis, and this is greatly due to not doing enough to slow down climate change.
NASA Earth Observatory has noted the average global temperature has increased by 1.1 C since 1880. However, the rate has increased over the last few decades, with temperatures going up by between 0.15 and 0.2 C per decade since 1975.
Global temperatures have increased by around 1 C since then, which, although it sounds minimal, is very impactful.
“A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all of the oceans, the atmosphere, and the land masses by that much,” NASA stated.
It also noted that a similar change in temperature plunged the world into the Little Ice Age in the past.
The reason temperatures are increasing is because greenhouse gases are trapping heat within the earth’s atmosphere. This is caused by an increase in carbon emissions, which is why there is a global agenda to reduce CO2 outgoings as much as possible to slow this temperature rise.
The impact of climate change on water is far-reaching, reducing water resources, causing water pollution issues, and affecting the water cycle.
It results in more evaporation from the oceans, lakes, and rivers, resulting in droughts in some areas and torrential downpours in others. This can lead to flooding, which causes more water pollution from surface runoff.
Water temperatures also change ocean currents, while the melting of glaciers is leading to a rise in sea-level.
This all comes down to carbon emissions, which is heavily caused by large-scale industries and growing cities. Having an economic system that is focused on profit has damaged the planet, which has resulted in global temperature increases, and the subsequent impact on water availability.
- Failure to act earlier
The UN conference saw the whole world uniting to tackle the water crisis, but this is the first time all countries have woken up to the fact the natural resource is now scarce, despite many deprived nations raising the point many years earlier.
This lack of global coordination has meant decades have been wasted when they could have been spent reducing water waste, cutting down on pollution, repairing water leaks, and improving water efficiency.
As Project Syndicate’s Joshua Castellino wrote: “Given that we might be the last generation capable of mitigating the worst effects of the water crisis, it is our responsibility to hold accountable those who are exploiting the planet for personal gain.”
Although political leaders should have acted sooner, they are now pulling together to protect water resources, so businesses and individuals are not left vulnerable by a lack of, or poor quality, water.