As a kid I drank from any handy water fountain. In upstate New York, where I grew up, there was a pipe coming out of a small hill that always had cold, clear water flowing out of it. It was well known so everyone in town would stop there to get a drink and fill up their jugs and containers. No one questioned where the water came from or its quality. The water was cold, it tasted great. Therefore, it was good to drink.
Obviously times have changed. I can’t remember the last time I drank from a public water fountain or even from my own kitchen tap. And I certainly would never drink water coming out of a pipe today! Now the clean water we drink we purchase and it usually comes out of a bottle.
For 1.4 billion people around the world, access to clean drinking water is not available. Their only water source is biologically contaminated water from unprotected wells, lakes or rivers as their only water source. Contaminated water that is biologically laced with viruses and bacteria like E.coli, Salmonella, Coliform, Giardia and more. Consuming this water results in serious illnesses and many deaths.
In countries where biologically contaminated water is the only water available, 1.5 million children annually, will die of dysentery and 2.1 million adults will die from a disease caused by their having to consume biologically contaminated water. A report issued by the UN stated that “more than half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied with people suffering from illness linked to contaminated water.” The report concluded that clean water resources are dwindling due population growth and the lack of proper waste water management.
The world’s population consumes 17.5 million gallons of water every second. For comparison purposes, the world uses 41,000 gallons of oil every second. Annually 2.1 trillion cubic meters of water are consumed or the equivalent of draining Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world, twice! A cubic meter equals about 264 gallons.
But the 2.1 trillion cubic meters is only about half of what the world population should be consuming. Health organizations state that 100 liters of water per day, or 36.5 cubic meters per year, is the minimum per person required for good health. In addition, for each person an additional 730 cubic meters per year is needed for agriculture, industry, and energy production. Therefore, the minimum water requirement per person is 766.5 cubic meters. With the 2015 global population at 7 billion, the minimum annual water usage should be 5.3 trillion cubic meters, rather than the actual 2.1 trillion cubic meters.
Annual water consumption per person by continent shows a significant disparity, with North Americans consuming 1,280 cubic meters, Europeans and Australians at 694 cubic meters, Asians at 535 cubic meters, South Americans at 311 cubic meters and Africans at 186 cubic meters.
These numbers paint a pretty grim picture. North America is exceeding the minimum per person requirement by over two thirds (1,280 CM vs 766.5 CM). Europe, Australia, and Asia are at least close to the average needed per person (766.5 cubic meters), while South America and Africa aren’t even close. The conclusion is that there is currently only enough fresh water capacity to support about half of world demand.
The health issues caused by consuming contaminated water are not just an issue for other countries they exist right here in California, too. A report just issued (May 5) by the Community Water Center and Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (CWC) found that approximately 25% of California schools had unsafe drinking water during the period of 2003-2014. The most common contaminants found in the water were bacterial and arsenic followed by the pesticide DBCP, disinfectant byproducts, and nitrates. The water was not tested for any metal contaminants.
The report matched almost 7000 California schools with the public water systems providing their water supplies to determine which schools were issued violations for unsafe drinking water. More than 1600 schools, serving more than 1 million students, did not meet primary safe drinking water standards during the 2003-2014 period. For more information on the CWC and their report, go to www.communitywatercenter.org.
When it comes to increasing the world’s fresh water supply, there are only four options: increase the amount of reuse/recycling, increase water storage, conserve more water or create a new source.
The value of clean, safe drinking water as a “commodity” is going to increase in value. Futurists are saying the value of clean water will exceed the value of gold. An urgent need exists for innovative new techniques that can purify and sterilize large volumes of water efficiently.
It is a need that someone will develop and fill. The sooner, the better.
Ian’s weekly column covers regional, state and national issues. His 40 year media career, includes 20 years as Publisher & CEO of various media companies. He welcomes comments from readers, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org