22 March 2008

World Water Day: No Drop Left Behind

Water is one of the most precious resources on Earth. Clean drinking water is essential to human life -- but only 10 percent of global water use is for human consumption.

The other 90 percent is used for a combination of direct inputs to industry, agriculture, transportation, recreation, producing hydropower and cooling nuclear power plants, and sustaining the ecosystems upon which we depend.

Over the last century, according to the United Nations, water use increased sixfold, twice as fast as the population rate.

The increase has led to water shortages around the globe. Experts from the International Water Management Institute now estimate that by 2025 over three quarters of the people on Earth will be affected by water scarcity.

Today, 40 percent of people globally (@ 2.8 billion) deal with some degree of water scarcity. Whether physical shortage or issue of access, shortages are increasing demand and competition for water. (Darfur is the poster example for what conflicts can arise from the perfect storm of water scarcity.)

March 22nd is World Water Day,a UN General Assembly designation to call attention to the issue of water scarcity and push for more sustainable management of the resource.

Clearly, global water use patterns are not sustainable. Some scientists claim that current water use rates will lead to such a shortage that there may not be enough water to produce the food needed by the world in 2050.

Not to mention the potential collapse of important ecosystems and the corresponding benefits, which may have a cascading effect on people and economies.

Integrated water resources management may help the situation, as some propose, but it is clear that we need a better method for calculating the true value of our fresh water resources.

The bottom line: No longer can we assume that past abundance of water is a guarantee for our future water returns.