To begin with, water is the world’s most essential resource. Every living being needs water; not one species can survive without it. Yet water is frighteningly finite, becoming increasingly precious, and contested. As the global population passes seven billion, it is estimated that two-thirds of the worlds’ population – about 5.5 million people – will live in areas facing moderate to severe water shortages by 2025.
Globally, coral reefs are vanishing and ice shelves in Antarctica and the Arctic are melting and breaking off. On land, people – especially women and children – travel great distances to collect the water their families need. However, the water they collect is too often polluted and leads to disease; thus women and children bear the brunt of the diseases carried in dirty water. It is said contaminated water contributes to the death of 15 million pre-school age children per year. It is like wiping out a country the size of Canada every three years.
Regionally, fish habitats are being restored in the Nisqually Basin and through the removal of dams on the Elwha River while industrial fisheries using nets, some of which are seventeen miles in diameter, are trawling ocean beds. Locally the Port of Tacoma acts to be a business leader that protects environmental quality and serves as a catalyst for tens of hundreds of jobs. At the same time a Tacoma NGO works around the world to provide clean drinking water to people, one school and one orphanage at a time.
In U.S. cities, 95 percent of water that utilities provide isn’t used for drinking or cooking, but for flushing toilets. You can buy Fiji brand water but half the population of Fiji doesn’t have safe reliable drinking water. On average, human beings need 50 liters of water per day for drinking, cooking and sanitation. The average North American uses just under 600 liters. A five-minute shower uses 25 to 50 gallons of water, five times the amount needed to keep a human being alive for one day. It takes 2.6 liters of tap water to produce 1 liter of Coke or Pepsi, and even more if sugar is used to flavor water and soft drinks.
As the WorldWatch Institute notes, “Water scarcity may be the most under appreciated global environmental challenge of our time.”
Neal Sobania, Executive Director
Wang Center for Global and Community Engaged Education