Water is essential for life. We drink it, cook and wash with it. But water shortage and water pollution are one of the greatest challenges of our time. To draw attention to this, World Water Day has been organized since 1993.
“The world’s water resources are under unprecedented threat. Today, around 2.2 billion people lack clean drinking water” says António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.
Many people in the Global North take it for granted to have access to clean water. But unfortunately this is not the case in all parts of the world: half of all people have to live with water shortages for at least one month a year. That means for one month there is not enough water available or the access is much more difficult as a result of external events. By 2050, the number of people living with limited access to water through the entire year is expected to rise to 4.4 billion. Today mostly people in rural regions are affected by water shortage because of lacking infrastructure. This shortage seems to be rising especially in cities. According to the UN, until 2050, the number of people in large cities will increase about 66 % – for instance, in Accra the capital of Ghana, too.
Do we have a water crisis?
In short, yes we have a water crisis! But why is the water situation on earth getting worse? Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time and is often named as the cause of the water shortage. What is behind it? The World Water Report 2020 concluded that climate change is leading to reduced drinking water supplies and poorer water quality, as the number of droughts and heavy rainfall increases. The water balance is turned upside down and is moving towards both extremes. This threatens food supply, health, energy and ecosystems, and we have a competitive situation for the available water resources.
Mostly nutrition is endangered by sinking water capacity. For instance, you need 1.000 litre of water to grow one kilo of Avocados – that is eight times what potatoes need! For growing cacao for our fairafric chocolate water is needed and climate change is challenging the farmers. Still, they don’t water the up to eight meter high cocoa trees artificially. During strong droughts, Plantain trees are felled and are placed around the dry cocoa trees. Furthermore, we use the Forastero tree, because it is very hard and robust.
In addition to climate change, water shortage is intensified by population growth and overconsumption in the Global North. The global water consumption increased six times from 1930 to 2000. 70 % of the water is used for the agricultural sector, 20 % for industry and 10 % at city level. The Global North is addressed as the major water user: The UN says the “polluter pays principle” needs to be applied, because many products and also foods are produced in the Global South and used in the Global North. We already know, more water is used, but the unequal distribution of water resources is also a big problem. Ghana, for example, is economically successful by African standards, but living conditions lag behind this success. According to Plan International, only 66 % of the population have access to clean drinking water in rural areas. Therefore, the aid organisation improves the water and sanitation supply with its projects by building wells and renovating water points.
The contamination of available freshwater is also a major problem. People often get their drinking water from muddy and polluted rivers or lakes. These are filled with bacteria and viruses that spread diseases. Furthermore, contamination by plastic is a real problem. UNICEF speaks of safe water as well as clean water. In addition to contamination, getting to the water point is a major obstacle. Often children or women go to get water. For safe water, it must be available close to their home, accessible at all times and the path must be safe, which in some countries is endangered through civil wars and high crime rates. Water shortage causes far-reaching consequences: Millions of people flee from their homes and the risk of instability and conflict increases. Above all, children’s health suffers: About 800 children still die every day from diseases caused by poor hygiene and water shortage!
Water shortage – an international challenge
In order to change that, we have to be active. From 2018 to 2028, the United Nations has proclaimed Water Decade with the aim of drawing attention to the growing shortage of water and to raise awareness. Water is a limited resource, and we need to be aware of its value – especially in countries where water is abundant. In the Global South, it is often the technical infrastructure that is lacking safe water access. For example, solar-powered pumps need to be installed to get deeper into the ground. This way water can be accessed even during extreme dry periods, the sinking groundwater makes water access difficult. In Ghana especially Accra as the capital and its suburbs is affected by water shortage. The water infrastructure system was built in 1914 and doesn’t have the capacity for the rising number of inhabitants and the growing economy. “The drinking water crisis is already endangering the economic success of Ghana”, says Robert Darko Osei, Institute for economic and statistics at the University of Ghana. That’s why organizations such as Viva con Agua are campaigning for secure access to sanitation, hygiene and clean water in the Global South with the vision “Water for All – All for Water”.
The 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is also called the “Global Contract for the Future” and aims to ensure a life in dignity, peace and prosperity for all people. Here, the “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” was defined as the 6th goal, too. BORDA e.V. – an international non-profit organisation working primarily in the Global South emphasizes the importance of water: “We can only achieve these development goals if we understand how water, as a globally limited resource, is linked to other goals.”
What can we do?
The Global North has mostly clean drinking water, but it is not like that everywhere. Water pollution, water shortage and extreme weather threaten the water balance worldwide. Did you know that more than two-thirds of the earth is covered with water, but only 0.3 % of it is drinkable! But what can we do about it? Last year, when building the new factory, fairafric took care to ensure sufficient access to fresh water, and we built our own treatment plant to filter impurities that arise from production. But we also have to save water here in Germany: About 120 to 190 litres of drinking water flow out of the tap per person every day. That is many times more than people in other parts of the world have at their disposal. But how can we save water? For one thing, taking a short shower instead of a full bath only uses about 15 liters/minute instead of 140 liters in the tub. When buying household appliances, pay attention not only to energy consumption but also to water consumption, and always load the washing machine and dishwasher to full capacity. Did you know that a full dishwasher saves more water than washing by hand? Another point is: reuse water! Water that is used for washing fruit and vegetables can be used for watering flowers afterwards, for example. You can also pay attention to how much water is used for the products you buy. You should not only keep your carbon footprint as low as possible, but also your water footprint. Your own water footprint can be calculated here.