In deep water: Water economy is threatened by climate change


From “Nourished Planet” by Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, edited by Danielle Nierenberg. Copyright Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Water is so precious because it is limited by nature. The science of water economy studies the way in which water resources are limited and how they must be managed to satisfy farming needs without creating social inequalities and unsustainable environmental impacts.

Overall, the planet possesses some 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water. However, it is estimated that less than 45,000 cubic kilometers (0.003 percent of the total) is theoretically usable and that only 9,000 to 14,000 cubic kilometers (about 0.001 percent of the total) is suitable for human use, which means it is of adequate quality and is accessible at an acceptable cost.

Freshwater resources are distributed unequally across the globe. According to The World’s Water (PDF), a report updated every two years by the Pacific Institute, nearly 65 percent of the world’s drinking water is in just 13 countries: Brazil (14.9 percent), Russia (8.2 percent), Canada (6 percent), the United States (5.6 percent), Indonesia (5.2 per- cent), China (5.1 percent), Colombia (3.9 percent), India (3.5 percent), Peru (3.5 percent), Congo (2.3 percent), Venezuela (2.2 percent), Bangladesh (2.2 percent) and Burma (1.9 percent). On the other hand, a growing number of countries are facing grave water shortages, and some are even looking at annual per capita availability of less than 1,000 cubic meters.

On a global average, the World Health Organization estimated, 842,000 diarrheal deaths occur each year; 361,000 of those deaths are of children younger than 5 who died because of unsafe drinking water. According to UNICEF, 768 million people worldwide lacked access to safe drinking water in 2015; one in six people do not reach the minimum standard set out by the United Nations of 20 to 50 liters of freshwater per person per day.

With statistics like these in mind, in 2010 the United Nations recognized the “right to water” as a fundamental and essential human right. This right establishes that everyone, without discrimination, has the right of access — physically and economically — to a sufficient amount of water that is safe to drink.

This recognition of water as a basic human right was proclaimed in the U.N. General Assembly’s Resolution 64/292. In response to the resolution, the U.N. Human Rights Council directed member states to “develop appropriate tools and mechanisms, which may encompass legislation, comprehensive plans and strategies for the sector, including financial ones, to achieve progressively the full realization of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, including in currently unserved and underserved areas.”

Managing our supply: the ‘virtual water’ trade and water privatization

Water scarcity can be a source of conflict between those with a sparse supply and those with plenty, so the fair and careful monitoring of supply management and distribution is of global importance. In addition to the water used for drinking and agriculture, virtual water — water used during the process of worldwide trade — is an important resource that must be quantified and analyzed. (…)

Danielle Nierenberg

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