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Water Scarcity

Water scarcity is one of the greatest problems faced by the 21st century world. Over one billion people live in water-scarce areas, and an additional 1.6 billion people live in areas affected by an economic water shortage due to lack of adequate infrastructure. By 2030, nearly half of the world’s people will live in regions of high water stress and up to 700 million people will be displaced from their homes due to water scarcity. Although there is enough water on the Earth to sustain the current population, the water is unevenly distributed and is often polluted, wasted and managed unsustainably. The water scarcity problem is growing worse as the world’s population grows and needs for water increase in households, industry and agriculture. Lack of access to clean water already has a significant effect on the lives on one third of the world’s population, and if the problem is not addressed, can have a serious effect on international development.

Lack of access to clean water forces people to obtain drinking water from unsafe sources. Poor water quality can dramatically increase the risk of developing disease such as typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery and other conditions. Lack of clean water can also lead to plague, trachoma and typhus.

People that live in water-scarce areas often store what little water they have in their homes, increasing the risk of water contamination. Stored water also provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes that can carry malaria, dengue fever and other life-threatening diseases.

Adequate water management is especially important in water-scarce regions. Many countries affected by water shortages are unable to provide the infrastructure needed to supply their populations with clean freshwater. As a result of this poor management, available water is often contaminated with disease-causing bacteria and parasites.

Water is essential to agriculture, and many poor communities in water-scarce areas must use wastewater to irrigate their fields. As a result, over ten percent of the world’s population consumes foods grown in wastewater-irrigated fields that contain disease-causing organisms and chemicals.

The United Nations has made addressing water scarcity an important part of its Millennium Development Goals. Recognizing the importance of clean water for both domestic and productive uses, the UN calls for increasing the use of desalinization and purification technologies, building better management policies in water-scarce countries, managing non-renewable groundwater resources and increasing public awareness regarding water use and conservation. These initiatives are essential to ensure that the world’s water can sustain future generations.