Water Sustainability

Water Sustainability

By Maryam Nazir Chaudhary

Introduction

It is common knowledge that humans can survive far longer without food, rather than without water; without food, humans can live up to months whereas without water, a person may last for only a few days. However, water scarcity rarely refers to the complete absence of water, but rather the lack of clean drinking water. The United Nations (2014)/5 recognises what a fundamental element of life water is; they state that “clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights”. Another growing challenge in regards to water sustainability is the lack of access to such clean drinking water. The World Economic Forum, or, WEF (2019)/4 reported water crises to be amongst the top 5 greatest risks by impact.

Clean Drinking Water

Contaminated water is a global issue, causing the transmission of diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and diarrhea. It reports that, at the very minimum, 2 billion people across the globe use water sources contaminated with faeces. Moreover, it is estimated that 485,00 lives are lost to diarrhoeal deaths caused by contaminated water, every year. Similarly, 297,000 children, under the age of 5, die from diarrhoea. Not only that, but climate change, population growth and urbanisation further threaten the little and mismanaged water supply currently available; by 2025, nearly 50% of the world’s population will reside in water-stressed areas.

From a more local perspective, food- and water- borne disease continue to pose challenges in Malaysia. In 2020, an incidence rate per 100,000 individuals in the Malaysian population of 0.35, 0.48, 0.14 and 0.20 were reported for the diseases cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid 0.20. Additionally, the figures reported are likely to be underestimates, due to a complex reporting procedure and individuals’ own preference on when to consult medical professionals.

Water Scarcity

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, or FAO defines two distinct categories of water scarcity. The first, physical water scarcity, “occurs when the demand for water…is higher than the available resource”. This refers to a literal deficit of water, such as during droughts. Nearly 1.2 billion individuals are located in areas of physical water scarcity.

The second, economic water scarcity, “occurs when human, institutional and financial capital limit access to water even though water in nature is available for human needs“. This denotes an inaccessibility of a present water supply. It is the latter class of water scarcity that poses an enormous challenge for both current and future generations. Approximately a quarter of the world’s population is found in areas suffering from economic water shortage due to poor infrastructure. Surprisingly, there is more than enough freshwater on the earth to sustain a population of around 7 billion people – it is wastage, pollution, mismanagement and unsustainable approaches that create such water scarcity dilemmas.

The water scarcity problem is predicted to worsen even further. By 2030, given the current rate of climate change, almost half of the world’s population will suffer from high water stress. Likewise, millions of people, ranging from 24 to 700, will be displaced by this disaster.

Moving Forward

As is the case with most sustainability and resource-related issues, the problem of ‘lack of access to fresh water’ is most severe in impoverished areas of the world. Low-income countries require the support of their wealthier counterparts to improve local infrastructure to prevent such economic water shortages.

To combat and curb the spread of fatal water-borne diseases, awareness must be raised amongst communities, and information disseminated. Proper water supplies should be provided, whilst contaminated sources must be purified before allowing public use. Industries and individuals poisoning water supplies should be held accountable and future incidents must be averted through strongly enforced laws.

Lastly, each individual must do their part by ensuring zero wastage of freshwater. Every person must be aware and conscious of their water footprint – defined as “the amount of water used to produce each of the goods and services we use” – and be committed to keeping it as low as possible.

Water scarcity is an issue that impacts not only all of us, but will have severe repercussions for future generations. If we are to truly solve this problem, society must come together, collaborate and support one another.

Key Points

  1. Two growing challenges in regard to water sustainability: water scarcity and lack of access to clean water 
  2. Food- and water- borne diseases continue to pose challenges in Malaysia. In 2020, an incidence rate per 100,000 individuals in the Malaysian population of 0.35, 0.48, 0.14 and 0.20 were reported for the diseases cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid 0.20
  3. Two distinct categories of water scarcity: physical water scarcity and economic water scarcity
  4. Water scarcity is an issue that impacts not only all of us, but will have severe repercussions for future generations.

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