Water Water Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink

By: Savannah Kochinke

March 16, 2015

Climate Change, Development, and Catholic Social Thought

As you read this, perhaps after a shower, with a cup of tea beside you, reflect on the activities that increase your water footprint, including actions such as eating beef.

Producing a single pound of steak has the average footprint of 2,000 gallons of water. With the average American consuming upwards of 70 pounds of beef annually, the gallons add up. This is for a single food, leaving aside water used for showering, gardening, or drinking.

No surprise, then, that Americans have a huge water footprint. Eleven percent of the global population, however, does not even have access to clean drinking water that we often take for granted.

The world is running out of fresh water. Only 3 percent of the world’s water is drinkable, with most of it locked in ice caps, and the world is demanding more than ever before. At the same time, countries are polluting the clean water sources that we have. The path we are following is completely unsustainable.  

Surrounded as we are by easy access to clean water in our daily lives, it is hard to understand true water insecurity, where reliability and quality are never assured.  

Water policy is a critical issue for development, and it is a cause that all should care about because it affects everyone to some extent. True, just by looking at the Millennial Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals we can see that there are so many issues and problems in this world that we need to address. But, water security is important because it is related to so many other goals: health, war and violence, human rights, inequality, and environmental degradation.  

On health, nearly five million people die each year from preventable waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. But water is not considered a “sexy” issue that is garnering the attention of the greater population. We need greater education for the global crisis.  

Events over the past year make it clear the urgency of the crisis.   

The Islamic State crisis highlights the impact of water in violent conflicts. Last summer there was a record drop in the water supply of Syria’s largest reservoir, Lake Assad, that supplies nearly five million people. Levels have dropped so low that many pumps are out of commission. There has been a dramatic spike in energy production by overexerting the dam. ISIL unfairly blames Turkey for cutting off the flow of the Euphrates into Syria as a “tool of war.”

The water war is being waged at the expense of the citizens. Water supply networks are targeted deliberately, cutting off water from cities for days at a time. The Syrian regime is slow at responding to or even preparing for a water or food crisis.  

We need to use hot-topic current events, like these violent conflicts in the Middle East to draw attention to water insecurity that touches so many aspects of so many lives.

This post was originally published on the Global Futures blog.

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