By the River (2017 | Issue 4)

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Water Woes

Water, one of the most abundant resources on our planet, also happens to be one of the least available resources for daily use. Shortage of water affects millions around the globe. What’s Up, Germany? delves deeper into the relationship between water and climate and the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Around 70 percent of our planet’s surface is covered in water, out of which only three percent is fresh water. Two-thirds of this precious fresh water is tucked away in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for our consumption. We use fresh water for drinking, washing, farming and driving industries. Its scarcity and decline in quality, partly due to climate change, is being felt around the world. Today, water scarcity affects four out of every ten people.

The Climate is a Changin’

One of the most daunting challenges we are facing right now is climate change. Experts warn that global warming is happening ten times faster than ever before. Its effects are evident around us: more frequent and severe floods, droughts and hurricanes; rising sea levels; melting of polar ice caps and glaciers; and the possible extinction of entire animal and plant species. The polar bears in the Arctic, dolphins in the Ganga and marine turtles in Africa are all at risk.

Climate change has been a hot topic of discussion among leaders and activists for quite some time. From Al Gore’s repeated warnings and pleas, to Knut the polar bear appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, climate change has been making headlines. Human activities are the main cause for the rise in temperature and the increasing pressure on our water resources. Endless amounts of vehicular emissions, burning of fossil fuels, rapid population growth, urbanisation, massive groundwater extraction, deforestation and inefficient use of water are all culprits.

If we don’t do something to reduce pollution and consumption, things will only get worse. The water that feeds us and keeps our ecosystems thriving will become even more scarce. Already more than half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared! Our rivers and aquifers are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to face water shortages.

Driving the Point Home

In 1995, the World Bank’s vice-president, Ismail Serageldin, said that “the wars of the next century will be fought over water”. This already rings true in India. In some cities, people begin the day fighting over water tankers! Every year, Delhi faces shortage of water and gets into a tussle with Haryana. Apart from water scarcity, groundwater contamination is also a major problem in India. Most of the states in the Ganga basin rely on groundwater for irrigation and drinking, but the aquifers are under great stress and the quality of water has deteriorated. The groundwater level in nine states across India has reached a critical mark, meaning 90 percent of the groundwater has been extracted with little hope of recharging. Plus, it has become so polluted that in at least ten states it is contaminated with arsenic! And arsenic is a known cause of cancer. If things continue like this, within 20 years, 60 percent of all aquifers in India will be in critical condition.

Climate Change - Global Warming