The finite character of water: challenges and opportunities
The protection and management of fresh water is attracting increasing attention at the international level. Topics like global warming, pollution and people without sustainable access to safe drinking water are among the problems we are facing for securing water consumption.
Earth’s surface is more than three-quarters covered by water, but the largest portion of this vital liquid (around 98% of it) is not suitable for human consumption nor for use in agricultural or industrial activities, this because many of it have a big salt content or it is in frozen state.
According to the United Nations World Water Development Report “Water for People, Water for Life”, fresh water resources in which the salt content is lower than 3 grams per liter, represent only 2.53% of overall global water resources. Over two-thirds of these fresh water resources (68.7%) are frozen in the polar ice caps, continental ice sheets, and alpine glaciers. Liquid fresh water is primarily found underground (30.1%), whereas surface water in lakes and rivers (0.26%) and atmospheric water content (0.04%) represent only a small volume of overall fresh water resources.
If this is not shocking enough, let me add that while the size of the world’s population has tripled over the last century, water consumption has increased by a factor of six! Meaning that available water resources have not kept pace with their rate of exploitation. If we were thought that water is a renewable resource, why it feels like is a non-renewable one?
I am sure that by this point many questions are popping inside your head, and one of them is the amount of water needed to secure human consumption, well, to help you understand a little bit more, the UNESCO’s World Water Assessment Program, pictured at this moment that land irrigation alone absorbs 70% of the available water stock, with an increasing tendency adjusting every day with demographic trends, then of course, we have industrial and urban uses that account for 10%, which is likely to grow in the coming years, whereas energy production, navigation, human uses, and leisure account for the remaining demands on water stock.
Sanitation and drinking water are essential to human life, dignity, health and development but many people around the world are still using unimproved water sources.
In this context, global warming is an important factor to take into account, mostly because is having an impact on hydrological patterns and it may cause an increase in regional reservoir capacity.
We should not forget that there are around 1,385,990,800 km3 of water on the planet and in its atmosphere, and according to experts of the U.S. Geological Survey, this quantity of water is the total amount available to us, nothing can alter this amount, it has remained the same for millions of years and is moving around in a continuous cycle, changing from one physical state to another (solid, liquid, or vapor/gas). Water continually moves from one reservoir to another by way of evaporation, evapotranspiration, condensation, precipitation, runoff, interception, infiltration, melting, and groundwater flow.
Considering that water’s finite character is reflected by the distribution and transfer of water between the different water reservoirs that exist on our planet, the increasing of Earth’s temperature and the amount of water needed to fulfill humans demands, we see each other on the need for effective multilateral water governance.
Nowadays a variety of laws, international treaties and obligations are attached to the use of fresh water, nevertheless we are far from an effective protection on guarantee the right to fresh water for all human beings.
We have significant challenges ahead and is time for each of us start to engage with its protection and safeguard for the actual and future generations.