Water scarcity is an issue that is rapidly increasing and will continue to have harmful impacts on our environment. Our planet has a plentiful supply of water however 97.5% is saltwater. This leaves 2.5% as fresh water and 2/3 of that is currently locked in polar ice caps and glaciers. The remaining 0.5% is usually used for agriculture, industrial and personal use. However, with our fast increasing population, the demand for crops and agricultural use will increase which will in turn increase water usage. Additionally, more factories being built will result in more water usage and a larger population will need more water for daily tasks like bathing and drinking.
International and Domestic Water Crises
Water crises occur globally including in the European Union, Asia, and the US. These can range from extreme droughts to contaminated water. In developing countries like India, villagers travel multiple kilometres on foot to collect a pot of water from common water pumps. This water is not usually treated and is unsafe and can lead to water-borne diseases such as cholera.
Another example of a water crisis is the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The Flint water crisis started in 2014 when Detroit switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River to save money. This change led to a decline in the water quality and led to an increase in health issues for Detroit residents. Examples of these were skin rashes and sudden hair loss. Despite residents complaining of discolored and strange tasting water, no action was taken. Even worse, over 9,000 children in Flint drank this lead-contaminated water over an 18 month period, which is very damaging for young children. Finally, there was also an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
The former governor, Rick Snyder, now faces two counts of wilful neglect of duty to which he pleaded not guilty. Other members of his staff face similar charges as well as charges of involuntary manslaughter. While after many years, the water quality is now sufficient and safe to drink, residents still hesitate to drink the water. In a recent survey, it was also proven that Michigan residents prefer to drink bottled water rather than from a tap.
Water scarcity can lead to harmful effects such as hunger and malnutrition. When there is not enough water, crops and livestock can be affected which can lead to a decrease in food production. This can also lead to job loss for farmers which will in turn reduce the country’s economy. Biodiversity loss is common when rivers and lakes are impacted due to increased salinity and freshwater fish getting threatened. Lastly, conflicts can arise due to the uneven distribution of water leading to unrest.
How can one person make a difference?
While as students and individuals there isn’t a lot we can do for these large crises, there are small activities we can participate in as individuals to educate others and attempt to reduce some of the harsh effects of water scarcity. To help raise awareness about climate change and its negative effects on our environment, I created a climate change club in my school. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the club’s sessions couldn’t take place in person so I created an online space where I send presentations to students about important topics such as water scarcity and the causes of climate change. We engage in discussions about conflicting opinions and answer questions, and I note their suggestions for topics they would like to learn more about.
Additionally, I recently acted in and directed a play called ‘The Four Elements’ in my school to promote awareness about sustainability. In the play, I portrayed the four natural elements of nature: wind, water, fire, and earth, and presented the effects on each if climate change continues unabated. It was a creative way to portray my passion for a topical subject and to get my message across to more people. It is extremely important to me to continue to spread climate related awareness because it isn’t given enough attention. The impacts to our environment aren’t getting better over time or slowing down and so it’s important to start making a change now to help delay the harsh effects for future generations.
Even small steps can cumulatively have a big, lasting impact. For example, I have attempted to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle whereby I consume less meat, reduce plastic use, and carry reusable shopping bags. These changes haven’t adversely affected the quality of my life but will surely have a meaningful impact on the environment.
Another main way to reduce water scarcity is water management. Making sure to turn off taps when they aren’t in use and taking more frequent showers rather than baths can make a big difference. Additionally, many new toilet companies have 2 functions for their flushes, a half setting, and a full setting which reduces water usage.
Singapore, the city-state of my residence, is an enviable role model for promoting sustainability. The drinking-water-scarce island has been innovating via water recycling techniques. My visit to Singapore’s only water plant NEWater — drinking water derived from treating sewage water through ultrafiltration — was an eyeopener about how modern technology is being used for water filtration. Also, Singapore has ‘4 national taps’ which recycle water in 4 different ways to promote water sustainability.
I look forward to studying earth and environmental science, hopefully at the University of Michigan at LSA next fall, where I aim to adopt strategies I have learned in my home country and feed them into my research while developing my knowledge in a subject area I am very passionate about.
Water is a resource that is slowly depleting due to being overused. Its shortage can be reduced by factors that we can still do to make a difference. We must educate others and attempt to manage our water usage better to delay the effects of water scarcity.
Tania Malik is a prospective student at the University of Michigan. She was raised in Singapore and is passionate about raising awareness for the environment. Currently a high school senior she has applied to Michigan and hopes to study earth and environmental sciences at the college of LSA.