Planet Earth Hung Out to Dry

World Water Crisis and Droplets of Hope

by Julie Hall at ProgressiveKid

Like kudzu and other invasive species, the overgrowth of humans on Earth is a fundamental imbalance that is disrupting long-established physical and biological systems everywhere. When balance is lost, extremes ensue. In the case of our climate, these extremes include flooding, fires, storms, shifting ocean currents, ocean acidification, shrinking glaciers, drying wetlands, depleted aquifers, melting snow pack, rising sea levels, evaporating lakes and rivers, and drought. None of these extremes is good news, but water loss is the scariest, because without water life turns to dust and blows away.

Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

Seventy-one percent covered by water, Earth is called the blue planet for good reason. Water abounds on Earth and makes it a habitable place for life. The human body itself is half to three-quarters water, with adjustments for size. Depending on health and weather conditions most people can survive only 2 to 10 days without water, whereas they can go 30 to 60 days or more without food. Yet one in six people (6.1 billion) does not have access to clean water for drinking, washing, and cooking. And global warming is compounding the problem by drying up water supplies.

Imperiled Water Collectors: Women and Children

In many parts of the world, such as Asia, Africa, and South America, fetching water is one of the central tasks of the day. It is typically the job of women and/or children, especially girls. Blue Planet Run, a U.S-based foundation that supports clean water access projects worldwide, estimates that these water collectors spend 6 or more hours and walk an average of 6 kilometers a day to get water for their families and communities. Their water-collecting journeys often put them at risk of attack from predatory men and animals and make it difficult or impossible for them to go to school or earn money, perpetuating cycles of illiteracy and poverty. To make matters worse, often the water available is polluted, exposing communities to water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and malaria. Every year 2.2 million people die from diseases associated with unsafe water for drinking, cooking, hygiene, and sanitation. Each day 6,000 children die from such conditions.

Declining Water Is a Global Issue

Even in places where clean water is widely available, global water shortages are contributing to declining agriculture, food shortages, and increasing food prices. Rising temperatures around the world are causing soil evaporation and reduced water for irrigation, threatening crops and livestock. A study by Lawrence Livermore National Labs and Stanford University found that every one degree F of temperature rise results in a 3-5 percent decline in production of the world’s main staple crops—wheat, corn, rice, barley, soybeans, and sorghum. As reported on Grinning Planet in the May 2007 article “Effects of Global Warming on Agriculture—and Vice Versa,” China predicts its production of wheat, corn, and rice to decline by 37 percent in the latter part of the century due to global warming. California agricultural production, which accounts for nearly half of U.S. fruits and vegetables, is already in decline from heat waves, drought, and reduced snow pack. And dry agricultural regions supported by irrigation, like the American Southwest, are fast succumbing to desertification.

Droplets of Hope

Amid these dire circumstances and predictions, good things are happening. Organizations like Blue Planet Run are helping people around the world tap into sustainable sources of clean water, such as community wells and purification systems. Blue Planet Run has helped support the implementation of 142 sustainable water projects in 14 different countries, including Bolivia, Kenya, and Nicaragua, and they have made it their goal to provide clean drinking water to 200 million people by 2027. For about $30 per person, they can provide long-term access to safe water, helping families and communities break out of cycles of disease and poverty. Want to help? Visit the Blue Planet Run website to find out how you can get involved, through donations, volunteering, and other means.

Conservation

Chances are if you’re reading this, you don’t spend 6 hours a day fetching fetid water for your family. If you’re American, you have access to clean water wherever you are, and you use between 100 and 175 gallons of water a day. That’s a striking figure compared to the 2.6 gallons used by the average person in unindustrialized countries and even the 35.6 gallons used by the average British citizen. So, aside from helping organizations like Blue Planet Run, you can do a lot by reducing your own water use. Start with the basics and go from there. Install low-flow fixtures, let your grass get dry in the summer, reduce and consolidate washing cycles, collect and recycle rain water, plant more trees and native plants instead of grass. Get creative. You may surprise yourself with your own conservation innovation and just how much less you can live with and be happy.

Julie Hall is the author of A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids: Understanding Climate Change and What You Can Do About and cofounder of the green online store ProgressiveKid.

Images © Blue Planet Run.

©2008 ProgressiveKid

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