May 11, 2013

Humanity’s Thirsty Future: Searching for Solutions. ~ Maria Ivanova

Earth’s fresh water resources are rapidly decreasing.

By 2030, the number of people living in water scarce regions will approach four billion, as per OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030.

Today, millions of young women and children in the water stressed regions spend their lives fetching polluted and/or contaminated water from distant wells or water basins.

We often like to see ourselves as better people who are saving water rather than wasting it. But what we aren’t aware of is our water footprint, says WWF.

At least 3,000 liters of water is used to produce that beefsteak you have for lunch. And that cup of black coffee without sugar you don’t even remember you had for breakfast? That required about 140 liters of water. Wearing leather shoes? About 8,000 liters of water wasted on those, so you better make good use of them. Even a simple cotton shirt is worth 2,900 liters of water.

What can the governments, organizations, and the people do to help manage water resources better?


Understandably, state- and region-wide water saving policies could be one of the most efficient tools to protect the planet’s water resources.

“The hydrological cycles are so interconnected that land use in one country can affect precipitation beyond its borders,” reasonably notes the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water by the European Commission.

One of the world’s most vivid examples of statewide water mismanagement is China.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese are drinking water polluted with poisonous substances like arsenic and agricultural chemicals, reports OECD. The country exhibits a wide array of water mismanagement practices, including over allocation due to excessive dam construction, inefficient use and pollution.

One of the leading water researchers, Peter Gleick, reckons that China is on its way to “more severe and complex water challenges than in almost any other place on the planet.”

When it comes to water, governments have two choices: (1) reduce water use and water pollution or (2) establish more advanced water treatment technologies.

China’s neighbor Japan chose to go down the latter path.

Challenged with a rapidly increasing population and industry growth, Japan developed its own water treatment technologies, including successful membrane systems. Japan also imported  technology from abroad  which included a Ukrainian-designed steam plasma arc water treatment system to treat radioactive contaminated water coming from Fukushima, Japan.

Alternatively, the European Union (EU) chooses efficient water management and pollution prevention as key water managements tools.

The EU introduced their first comprehensive water policy in 2000 and developed comprehensive strategies aimed to avoid pollution. Presently, operating regulations concern industrial emissions, groundwater pollution, detergents, persistent organic pollutants, agricultural nitrates, mercury and other dangerous substances.

Governments seem to have vast, nearly unlimited potential to regulate water supplies. They can introduce fines for water pollution, restrict the usage of certain groundwater and surface waters and introduce sustainable water policies. Yet, the illusion of water being an infinite (or at least renewable resource) prevents most governments from introducing efficient strategies.

Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs):

NGOs have proven powerful lobbyists in the sector of water security despite the challenges.

The official page for the EU Water Framework Directive opens with the following statement: “The increasing demand by citizens and environmental organizations for cleaner rivers and lakes, groundwater and coastal beaches has been evident for considerable time. This demand by citizens is one of the main reasons why the Commission has made water protection one of the priorities of its work.”

Influential NGOs have the ability to pressure businesses to stop polluting water and avoid overusing it. In addition, NGOs successfully raise individual awareness of the water crisis and the need to save and protect water.

Promoting water preservation among individuals can be particularly effective, resulting in both a reduction in household water intake/pollution and a positive transformation of the views of current and future decision makers in both business and government sectors.

One of the recent examples of such water protection campaigns is the celebrity-clad Toilet Strike.

Led by Matt Damon, the campaign advocates for everyone in the world to have access to clean water and sanitation. Stars like Jessica Biel, Jason Bateman and Josh Gad joined Matt Damon in their pledge to not use the toilet “until everyone has safe water.”

The comic pledge got quite a few mixed reactions; yet, the campaign did generate wide publicity for the issue of clean water.

If you think a Toilet Strike is too much, consider joining the English band Depeche Mode and pledge on your next birthday to help provide access to clean water.

The project invites you to start a fundraising page and ask your friends to donate to clean water for your birthday. Impressively, 38 people get clean water as a result of an average birthday campaign.


These and many other campaigns try to reach thousands of people in the developed and developing world to promote water issue awareness.

Dan Ariely,  a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University,  cites many factors that contribute to individual apathy regarding a the current and future water crisis. Individuals believe:

>> The consequences of our carelessness regarding water lie in a relatively distant future;

>>They will not affect us first;

>>We don’t see anyone in particular suffering; and

>>Any effort that we can make to prevent water mismanagement is a drop in the bucket any way.

How can we motivate ourselves to cut time in the shower, turn on the washing machine a touch less frequently and water the lawn early in the morning instead of midday?

Individually enforced solutions for water crisis are quite diverse. They include switching off water while brushing your teeth or shaving, installing water saving faucets for taps and shower heads, washing your car less, reducing home plants irrigation, fixing leaks, buying nature-friendly detergents and avoiding throwing small pieces of trash in the toilet.

Shockingly, nearly 20 liters of water are wasted every time you flush a small bit of trash (including facial tissue) according to numbers provided by Eartheasy.com.

But quilting yourself into saving water might get frustrating really fast. How about an easier and more pleasurable way to gradually become a more water-conscious member of the society?

  1. Introduce (and implement) one new water-saving technique for your household every month and treat yourself when you stay committed.

  2. Go to a water protest and/or donate to a water-related charity.

  3. Buy and wear an “I save water” T-shirt.

Sometimes baby steps are all it takes to avert a disaster.


Maria Ivanova is a journalist in Kyiv, Ukraine, currently writing for online media Worldwide News Ukraine. Maria has a degree in Political Science and Psychology and is interested in sustainable development, green living, and global prosperity. Previously headed local NGO Academy of Direct Democracy.






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  • Assistant ed: Paula Carrasquillo
  • Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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