The World’s Water Crisis

 Polluted water from industry
 Young Ugandan boy carrying water

 Water is widely known as the essence of life. The molecule itself is relatively simple, consisting of only two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom; however, its global implications are much more complex. Even primitive societies centered their civilizations around bodies of water, recognizing the importance of access. Therefore, modern society must question its regression to a world where 33% of its residents lack access to clean water. 

The United Nations created the Sustainable Development Goals to recognize a multitude of humanitarian crises. Among the 17 goals, Goal Six in particular valiantly strives to cure the world of the urgent matter of a lack of clean water, sanitation related health concerns, and poor infrastructure, promising to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

The toll humanity has placed on natural water resources is immense, a pressure that will only increase as the population continues to expand. The United Nations describes water scarcity as: “scarcity in availability due to physical shortage, or scarcity in access due to the failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply or due to a lack of adequate infrastructure.” This lack of water is being exacerbated by rapidly growing populations, particularly in urban areas. 

A UN study has found that “water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered, especially in arid regions.” As an increasing population rapidly consumes more water, natural water processes and cycles can no longer clean and replenish reservoirs at a comparable rate. This creates a vicious feedback loop, utilizing more water than what is available. 

Not only is there a limited amount of freshwater available for use, but even less of it is safe for drinking or agriculture due to poor infrastructure. According to the World Health Organization, 2 billion people do not have access to sanitation facilities such as toilets, and as a result 673 million still defecate in the open, such as in street gutters, behind bushes, or into open bodies of water. 

This develops into a snowball effect. Because local water sources are used in agriculture, this water then proceeds to contaminate approximately 10% of the world’s food. This polluted water and food then causes diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio, ultimately resulting in almost 500,000 deaths per year. The basic human right to access safe water is one of the most crucial topics addressed in Goal Six, furthering the importance of this goal.

Goal Six is arguably the most important Sustainable Development Goal, as it attempts to address the numerous complex issues that water stress and poor sanitation cause. While the situation is certainly dire, stress can sometimes even breed innovation. Companies and governments are already attempting to form creative solutions to this global problem. A substantial project that scientists are hoping will relieve the water crisis involves energy-efficient desalination. Middle Eastern countries have even begun to use solar power desalination plants. Desalination would allow humanity to utilize the vast resources of the ocean. However, revolutionary advancements and universal collaboration will be required to achieve Goal Six— saving the world’s freshwater resources and its residents.

– Annie Cui ’22

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