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What is Water Scarcity?

Water scarcity is simply the lack of access to water. While this environmental issue has always been a concern for humans, it poses an unprecedented threat in the 21st century. To effectively address realities and find solutions, it is important to understand the characteristics and causes of this issue.

Why is Water Resources Management Important?

The management of water is crucial for the health and sustainability of all. Consider these facts from the United Nations:

  • Two billion people currently reside in countries that experience high water stress.
  • It is estimated that by 2030, 24 million to 700 million people worldwide could be displaced due to water scarcity.
  • About four billion people (two-thirds of the global population), experience severe water scarcity at least one month out of the year. 
  • One-third of the globe’s largest groundwater systems are already in distress.
  • By 2050, 4.8 to 5.7 billion people could potentially live in areas with water scarcity at least one month per year. Most of these people (73%) will live in Asia.

Water scarcity isn’t just a problem far away from home, however. The United States is facing its own significant issues when it comes to water management. 

  • By the year 2071, almost half of the 204 freshwater basins in America may not be able to meet monthly water demand.
  • 75% of America’s annual water consumption is from industrial agriculture. A reduction in water means a potential reduction in agricultural outputs. 
  • 40 U.S. states will experience water shortages by 2023. 

The importance of effectively managing this precious resource is undeniable. However, to do so requires an understanding of how scarcity occurs. 

How Does Water Scarcity Happen?

Water scarcity doesn’t just appear. A range of contributing factors must come together to make problematic circumstances. The imminent water scarcity crisis has been caused by the following:

Climate change 

The warming of the planet is wreaking havoc. Dry regions are becoming drier, while precipitation becomes more extreme and unpredictable. This causes drought conditions and increases the difficulty of successfully capturing and managing recyclable water. 

Increased population

Only 3% of the water on earth is freshwater. The greater the number of people there are, the less of this precious resource there is to go around. By 2030, the population is expected to increase by 2.3 billion, placing an unprecedented strain on water usage. 

Increased demand for water-intensive products

Water isn’t just used for drinking and cleaning. Whether it’s growing plants for textiles, taking care of livestock or manufacturing plastic, many more industrial processes require water to sustain them than you might think. As wealthier populations increase, so does demand for items like meat, fossil fuels and other water-depleting products. 

Lack of infrastructure maintenance

According to the World Resources Institute, the infrastructure that allows us easy access to clean water is regularly ignored. The organization estimates that six billion gallons of treated water are wasted per day from leaky pipes. Additionally, water infrastructure is often expensive to install and repair. This means that it is often ignored until major disasters make it impossible to do otherwise. Natural infrastructure is also ignored. When ecosystems, such as forest watersheds, are healthy, they can filter pollutants, provide buffers against floods and regulate water supply. However, these systems have been deforested and urbanized, putting clean water availability at risk.

Wasteful practices

Even when water is treated and available, it is often used poorly by its recipients. For example, 80% of the world’s wastewater is not treated or reused before sent back into nature. This creates further damage within the water cycle by increasing pollution. Additionally, many industries use inefficient water practices that contribute to waste. 

Although these issues may sound dire, there are ways to address them successfully. 

What You Can Do

Water scarcity affects everyone. As climate change continues to worsen and both the population and demand for resources increases, it will become increasingly important for individuals, cities, regions and nations to find effective ways to manage water use for the good of all.

Here are a few ways to help.

Campaign for water-heavy industries to change their practices.

For example, the U.S. agriculture, brewing and paper industries all currently practice heavy water usage. Through our personal buying practices, congressional lobbying and political vocalization, you can encourage industry to reduce irrigation and switch to more environmentally sustainable practices. 

Understand water usage beyond the tap.

When you understand that water is involved in a substantial number of processes, you can make smarter choices about the products you buy. For example, according to Natural Solutions for Water Security, it takes:

  • 3 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water
  • 140 liters for a cup of coffee
  • 2,393 liters for a hamburger
  • 9,982 liters for a pair of jeans

Refilling your water bottle, cutting down on meat and coffee consumption and buying upcycled clothing, all lessen the overall demand for water. 

Learn more about water management through formal training.

If you’re serious about affecting change when it comes to water scarcity, earning your degree can give you the edge you need to make a meaningful difference. For example, the online water resource management degree offered by East Central University can help you get the advanced understanding you need to influence environmental policy. Resources such as the Oka’ Institute make it possible for students to help their communities thrive in the face of this substantial ecological challenge.