7. What causes water shortage? What is the future for our water supplies?
To give you an idea of the problem

  • 884 million people, lack access to safe water supplies, approximately one in eight people.
  • Each year, 3.575 million people die from water-related disease.
  • 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 1.2 billion people who have no facilities at all.
  • Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.
  • Millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources.
  • At any given time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease.

The concept of water stress is relatively simple: According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, it applies to situations where there is not enough water for all uses, whether agricultural, industrial or domestic. We have the water available per capita. But using this information to define water stress is a bit more difficult.
However, in general terms, less than 1,700 cubic meters per person per year means that countries begin to experience periodic or regular water stress.
Below 1,000 cubic meters, water scarcity damages economic development and human health and well-being.

But things are likely to get worse for the following reasons:
Population growth: By May 2010, the world population will have reached 7 billion. The UN estimates that by 2050 there will be about 9 billion people with most of the growth in developing countries that already suffer water stress. Thus, water demand will increase unless there are corresponding increases in water conservation and recycling of this vital resource.
Increased affluence: The rate of poverty alleviation is increasing especially within the two population giants of China and India. However, increasing affluence inevitably means more water consumption: from needing clean fresh water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and basic sanitation service, to demanding water for gardens and car washing, to wanting jacuzzis or private swimming pools.
Expansion of business activity: Business activity ranging from industrialization to services such as tourism and entertainment continues to expand rapidly. This expansion requires increased water services including both supply and sanitation, which can lead to more pressure on water resources and natural ecosystems.
Rapid urbanization: The trend towards urbanization is accelerating. Small private wells and septic tanks that work well in low-density communities are not feasible within high-density urban areas. Urbanization requires significant investment in water infrastructure in order to deliver water to individuals and to process the concentrations of wastewater – both from individuals and from business. These polluted and contaminated waters must be treated or they pose unacceptable public health risks.

Where do we get our water from now? What are the problems with it?
Depletion of aquifers: Aquifers are the rocks that contain groundwater. In 60% of European cities with more than 100,000 people, groundwater is being used at a faster rate than it can be replenished. Even if some water remains available, it costs more and more to capture it.
[Groundwater, recall from question 1 of rivers on the hydrological cycle, is the water that is stored in permeable rocks – those with spaces between the grains – and is a major source of water in HICs. However, if more water is withdrawn that is put back, the situation is not sustainable. For example in East Anglia, where the rainfall is low, most of the water used there has until now been taken from the ground. They have had a mass re-boring project going on where the bore holes are now 2 or 3 times as deep as they used to be. But even these are running dry.]
Climate change: could have significant impacts on water resources around the world because of the close connections between the climate and hydrologic cycle. Rising temperatures will increase evaporation and lead to increases in precipitation (though not necessarily where the evaporated water came from). Overall, the global supply of freshwater will increase. But both droughts and floods may become more frequent in different regions at different times, and dramatic changes in snowfall and snowmelt are expected in mountainous areas. Climate change could also mean an increase in demand for farm irrigation, garden sprinklers, and perhaps even swimming pools.
Water based disagreements: 1.7A1_River_Jordan.pngThere are several areas of the world where several countries share one river basin and its underlying aquifer. It is often the case that the country upstream takes more than its fair share before the countries nearer the mouth have a chance to get any. For example India is taking water from the Ganges to store in reservoirs to see it through the dry season.
The area of the Jordan River Basin, including parts of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank, is another such area. All these countries are arid. The river originates in Lebanon and has a total average flow of 1,200 million cubic meters per year. This river system consists of the Jordan and Yarmuk River, which flows from Syria. With the arid climate and low precipitation in this region, water has become the most valuable resource. Most countries in the Jordan River Basin are among some of the poorest countries in the region. Groundwater aquifers are the principle source for water supplies to the states that rely on the Jordan River. Water use varies throughout the region. Israel uses the greatest amount of water available in the basin, and next in line is Jordan. The Israeli-occupied West Bank uses the smallest amount. The Palestinians are very resentful of this. In particular, the Israelis have walled off Palistinians supplies and charge them 3 times the price for water that they charge themselves.

CASE STUDY: Rivers 1: A country with a rising demand for water: India
This is the average usage of water by income group

Here is India’s water usage:
1.7B_Water_use_India.pngAs you can see it is similar to the Low and middle income group, although perhaps the industrial use is a little higher than the rest. This can be explained as India has increased its level of industrialisation markedly in recent years. But there is still a lot of water used for agriculture. 1.7C_Rice_Paddy.pngPerhaps the picture gives you an idea. This is a rice paddy. The seeds are grown in a seed bed for about a month and then transplanted to the paddy which is then flooded. The rice needs moisture but it can be grown without continuous flooding. However if the rice is kept flooded, then the weeds that cannot survive in water don’t grow. In addition the growing plants are protected from vermin. So you see irrigation water is very important to the staple crop of India.
Another reason for the high use of water in agriculture is down to a development that took place 40 years ago called the Green Revolution. One of the important parts of this was to have a 2-crop system. Previously, rice was only grown once a year in the Monsoon rain season. But famine in the 1940s led to a lot of research. It was realized that if you stored the flood water from the Monsoon in reservoirs you could grow 2 crops, and this, among other developments, meant that India has not suffered major famine since. But it also increased greatly the amount of water used for irrigation.

What industries use most of the water at the moment? Look at the graphs1.7D_India_Ind_water_use.png
Thermal power takes most of it. Thermal means heat and power in this context means electricity. So something is being heated to make electricity.

From these 2 pie charts you see that thermal power produces 76% of the electricity – of which coal is a major contributor and gas is less so (don’t worry 1.7E_India_electric.pngabout lignite, it is really a sort of soft coal). All thermally produced energy creates steam from water to drive the turbine. Once the steam has passed through the turbine it needs to be cooled to form water to go back around the system to produce more energy. This system is closed, in other words the same water goes round and round. But what cools the steam? It is water from a river usually – so this why so much of the water used by industry – 88% of it – is used in producing electricity.
The other 12% goes into manufacturing, mainly engineering, paper, textiles and steel.

1.7F_India_potable.pngAlthough only 5% of India’s water is used domestically, you can see from this graph just how well in making potable water available to its people – 88% of them have potable water. This does not mean all of them have taps in their houses by a long way. The majority in the villages still use communal facilities – well or pumps. Even in the towns many houses share outside taps.

What about the future?
India is a developing country. More people will expect water to be piped into their houses. The 12% without potable water need it too. And there is one more important issue – take a look at the population graph.1.7G_India_population.png
Whilst China’s population will level out by about 2030 and then begin to drop, India’s population will continue to climb and be 60% higher in 2050 than it was in 2000. All those people will expect clean potable water and in their houses too. So there will be a growth in the amount of potable water needed.
As far as industry is concerned, according to the World Bank, the water demand for industrial uses and energy production will grow at a rate of 4.2 per cent per year, rising from 67 billion cubic meters in 1999 to 228 billion cubic meter by 2025, over 3 times as much! Why should this be? India will go on growing industrially. It will certainly need increasing amounts of electricity to run its industry. It will also need it for its growing population who will expect electricity in their homes. It may be hoped that other ways of producing electricity that does nor involve coal will become more popular as global warming gains in importance, and this could mean less water was needed for cooling steam. However, India has a good supply of coal and it can’t be imagined that they will stop using it. So it is likely that energy’s need for cooling water will not decrease any time soon.

Up-to-date resource on water usage in India

So this is our first case study: about a country with a growing demand for water:
What does it use for now? You need some rough figures for this as well as the uses – I say rough because there are many sources, each coming from different years – so putting figures in an exam show you understand the ball park idea but no-one has a special book with THE correct answers!
What needs are increasing and why?

An alternative country whose water usage will need to change by Mercedes

China is a rapidly developing country with both the economy and people’s salaries growing very quickly. In the past, Chinese didn’t earn much money so they ate mostly rice and vegetables but now they can afford to buy meat. Families are now eating meat on a daily basis. The population is still growing rapidly which means there will be more people buying more meat. 3,380 gallons of water is needed to produce 2.2 pounds of beef, so the meat industry in China is using more and more water each year.
As the number of people increases, so does the need for goods, like clothes, plastics, medicines. With more spending money, people want more things and the manufacturing industries which produce the things use huge amounts of water. The textile industry which provides clothes and bedding is one of the industries which use a lot of water; to manufacture one cotton t-shirt four bathtubs of water are needed. The paper industry which supplies the growing number of students with notebooks since most don’t have access to a computer is another one which uses a lot of water.
China has the same amount of water as Canada but it has 40 times the population. Not only is there a water shortage but most of the available water is severely polluted. Until anti-pollution laws are put in place and followed, this problem will only get worse.
The North of China is where all the wheat is grown but most of the country’s water is found in the South. There is a network of canals being built now to transfer water from the South to the North

Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_supply_and_sanitation_in_India
This is the Telegraph article about government targets for household water use

Water Aid is a brilliant charity that is trying to help us reach the Millennium Development Goal of getting potable water to everyone by 2015.
I have downloaded a useful short document that explains what they are doing and why, with particular reference to sanitation.

A really useful booklet looking at water issues worldwide