Water covers about two thirds of the earth surface with most of it being found in the oceans. Some of the water is found in the continents’ rivers, lakes and in the subsurface.
The fact still holds that about 98% of the earth’s water is found in the oceans, this ocean water sometimes is locked up in glaciers. In land, water is locked up in ice caps especially in cold areas. Man often ignores most of the things available within his reach and as most of you might agree, it is a universally held notion that we crave for what we can’t get and despise what we cannot live without.
Until recently, the issue of water had been taken with less concern with nobody caring on how water was being used. Before then water was considered as a commodity which can survive beyond depletion nobody saw the chances of the commodity becoming scarce. However as events unfold, it has been revealed as a fact that water is rapidly being depleted and soon the world may become a desert.
As it has been reported, many third world countries are still grappling with providing usable water to their citizens. Most of these countries are in Africa and Asia.
This research tries to explain the importance of water especially in an economist’s perspective by explaining the uses of water in various fields, pollution of water and the agents of pollution. In essence, the report tries to crystallize ways in which this precious commodity can be utilized to enhance sustainable economic growth in the society.
As we shall be able to see in this report, clean water quality is more of primary importance than just the water itself. Water is put into a specific use depending on the degree of its quality.
When we talk about water, the first thing that comes into our mind is a colorless liquid which is used for domestic purposes such as cooking, cleaning, drinking, and for animals’ consumption.
Despite the numerous uses of water, as we have seen above, the commodity is quickly running out of stock and action needs to be taken in devising ways in which we can use water in an efficient and a sustainable way. The distribution of water across the world varies with some places having abundant supplies as others have constrained supplies. This is confirmed by Johnson (2010) who states that:
In wealthy parts of the world, people turn on a faucet and out pours abundant, clean water. Yet nearly 900 million people in the world have no access to clean water, and 2.5 billion people have no safe way to dispose human waste—many defecate in open fields or near the same rivers they drink from. Dirty water and lack of a toilet and proper hygiene kill 3.3 million people around the world annually, most of them children under age five (p2).
In some places accessing even the dirty wash is not that easy. This shows how extreme the conditions may even get in the near future (Johnson, 2010). Though sanitation is a major and necessary issue for one to lead a healthy life, most of the people in Africa ( Sahara region) do not access water that regularly thus basic issues like washing own bodies, washing clothes and washing hands after visiting toilets are not possible since the available water is for consumption purposes.
The use of water, however, as we shall see later goes beyond the domestic boundaries. Since the beginning of man, there has always been the issue of water cropping up in most of the historic happenings. Industrialization is a good example.
Considering all the uses of water, we cannot fail to crystallize its importance in the society today. That is why conservation measures have to be formulated in order to prevent the depletion of this precious commodity.
Conservation measures include protecting catchments areas, preventing pollution and regulating the number of boreholes in a given area and the basic one (though hard to observe) is the efficient and sustainable use of our water resources which guarantees the future generation at least some volumes of clean water if not adequate.
The different ways in which we use water alters the quality of water with most of the times adding impurities and contaminating the water. A press release by Canadian Press (2010) indicates that the country’s lakes and rivers are all contaminated with harmful compounds and little is known of what will happen if the compounds mix although the extent of contamination is not yet known.
The knowledge gap which exists is making it impossible to conduct risk assessment or management activities. This problem is likely to be worsened by the ongoing global warming and climate change due to human activities. Unpredictable heavy rainfalls could cause overflows carrying with it sewer, manure. and fertilizers among other compound and deposit them in our lakes or water bodies.
If these rain conditions are found by a warmer season, this provides a good breeding site for the algae due to the existing contaminate conditions which may be rich in nitrogen and phosphorous compounds. These algae deprive water its oxygen and the water animals such as the fish and amphibians may die due to the limited nutrients available and this could be a huge economic loss to any society.
In developed countries such as those countries in North America and Europe, policies governing the issue of water have been formulated and are operational as we speak. However, this is quite different in poor countries. In Africa for example, pastoral communities have been reported to fight over water. This is compounded if the communities live in areas that have been frequented with draught. And worse still if the warring communities belong to two different countries.
Generally speaking, water is found everywhere on earth and there exists different ways in which it can be tapped for human use. From the economic point of view how we use our water resources should be efficient and in sustainable ways which ensures that we leave the resources in better conditions than we found them.
To Control how water is used, the authorities concerned should enact laws that bars one from inefficient usage of water and for those who uses water for industrial and processing purposes laws and taxes should be introduced that ensure that the effluents are treated before being released to the river because effluents are a major source of pollution.
Pollution of water is simply defined as contamination of water. Substances which pollute water are most of the times chemicals. These chemicals alter the quality of water by adding some components, which can be or are harmful to human beings, animals, and the entire ecosystem. There are quite a number of pollutants, which can cause harm to surrounding water bodies like lakes and ponds. Some of the pollutants include soil, nutrients, and microorganisms (as we shall see below).
Water and its Uses
Water is required in every activity that man does as long as he is living. Therefore, we can discuss the uses of water under the different activities. The primary categories in which we can classify water use is industrial use, municipal use and in agriculture. Below are some of the uses of water in the different fields.
Domestic Use of Water
In the domestic sector, water is used for drinking, cooking and cleaning. We also fetch water for our animals to drink. For example, washing a sizeable load of laundry uses a good amount of water. Statistics estimate this to be 40 gallons (University of Arizona, 2010). We also use water in agriculture to irrigate plants.
Within our bodies, water is used during metabolism. Water is also used in the tourism industry. Water falls and rapids create good scenery for tourist attraction. It is evident that most of us use water according to its availability but not according to the uses. As noted by Johnson (2010);
“The average American uses a hundred gallons of water just at home every day; Aylito Binayo makes do with two and a half gallons” (p3).
This was in a case where the writer had visited some places in the southern side of Ethiopia in Africa and he notes that it would be very hard to convince the community living around this place, that using water for bathing or other sanitation purposes was healthy due to the fact that the available volumes of water do not allow them to.
Water is used for economic purposes especially in the field of agriculture. Water can be used in the irrigation of rice, white and other agricultural produce and when we pollute our waters; the growth of these crops is curtailed as the contamination may hinder their growth.
Water in the Industry
Water is also used in the industrial sector, for example, in the engineering field and in the energy sector. In energy sector hydroelectric energy is produced whereby water is used to drive turbines that generate electricity. Geothermal energy production also uses water whereby water is pumped down a reservoir and comes out as steam through another channel.
Engineering uses of water are in construction of roads, bridges, and railway lines. Water is used as a coolant in heavy-duty industries. If we use polluted water for these activities, for example, water containing metals, it can make the machines used in the above sectors corrode and thus result into economical losses as the machinery will require regular replacements in order to function successfully (Perlman, 2010)
Water in the Security Sector
Water has also gained its use in the security sector. Thus, it can be mixed with other chemicals and be used to disperse rowdy crowds. In Africa this technique was first utilized in South Africa. If such water was contaminated with carcinogenic compounds such as the mercury compounds, body contact with the water can cause itching and rashes all over the body causing more harm and discomfort than was expected (Coleman, Gochenour, Lawryszek, Chandnani, 2010)
Water in the Transport Sector
Water has also been used in the transport sector whereby it has been used as a means in which vessels move from one port to another. Submarines, cruise ships, ferries and other water going vessels cannot travel without water, (U.S. Global Change Research Program). A case study is in River Nile in Africa.
The Nile is used for transport. Water is also used to cool engines of automobiles. In economic terms water bodies are the channels through which goods can be transported from one area to another. As with the engineering sector, contact of contaminated water with the machinery causes corrosion and thus an economic loss,
Water in the Rescue Services
Water is also used in fire rescue services. When mixed with gases such as carbon dioxide, this water can be able to put a fire in control, (Building Research Establishment, 2005)
Water in the Health Sector
In medical terms water is used in the laboratories in the manufacture of medicines or in pure water injections. When hot it can also be used for disinfecting purposes.
Water is also used in the chemical industries. Most chemicals are manufactured in the presence of water. Thus, water is either used as a medium of ion exchange or as a coolant. Water also exists as a major component in chemicals. For example, all acids contain water as a major constituent in their chemistry, (Geiser, 2005)
Water in Mining
In the mining sector, water is used for provisions in underground mines. It is also used as a lubricant in drills and even as a solvent in mining salt domes, (Mavis, 2003)
Case Study of River Nile in Africa
In Africa, River Nile passes through Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt. The river serves numerous purposes which include fishing, tourism, and farming. In the tourism sector there are numerous luxury cruises traveling in River Nile especially in Egypt. In farming, the surrounding communities use the Nile for irrigation and for transporting their goods.
Items such as rice, wheat, hay, cattle and many others are transported through the Nile. Fishing is a major source of income to communities living around river Nile with the major breed of fish being Nile Perch (Karyabwite, 2000). The major pollutants of this river come about due to the following activities:
Pollution of Water by Soil
When it rains, the surface runoffs usually erode the soil. This soil is transported and deposited in nearby rivers. In such areas soil usually accumulates to levels where it can kill microorganisms, macro organisms and even the eggs of water dwelling animals. In some situations, this eroded soil clogs the gills of fish and cause problems to other water dwelling animals.
When water has got very large deposits of soil, it becomes opaque thus hindering the penetration of light through and this causes death of most water plants resulting in death of other water organism that feeds on these plants. Accumulation of soils in large reservoirs also causes siltation thus reducing the volume of water in the reservoir.
This can be deceiving to the surrounding ecosystem that uses this water for domestic, irrigation purposes, and for HEP production. As a result, dredging will be required. The process of dredging is expensive and time consuming. Thus, to an economist’s point of view, water contamination by soil causes the society to spend more money on remediation measures. Dredging will also be needed to prevent clogging in the gills of fish. (UNEP, 2007)
Pollution of Water by Nutrients
Pollution of water by nutrients is often an artificial cause. The use of fertilizers in agricultural practices can be detrimental to the soil and water. If these fertilizers are washed away, they can find their way into rivers, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. Fertilizers usually contain nitrogen and phosphorus.
If it finds its way in a lake, the nitrogen and phosphorus cause eutrophication. Eutrophication alters nutrient levels in the water. This causes growth of phytoplankton. Nitrogen is a nutrient that is well known for stimulating growth of algae. Phosphorus is also another element well known for this purpose.
If this growth occurs the ecosystem is affected. Growth of phytoplankton yields algae. When algae grow to numerous numbers, they cause problems because they use up all the oxygen therefore killing organisms like fish, the algae also produces toxins which are also harmful to human beings and other water living organisms. By doing this, the ecosystem is changed and this becomes problematic (Medline Plus, 2010).
Water Pollution by Sewage
This kind of pollution comes from sewage spills. When untreated sewage is deposited in a lake, bacteria will grow. As a result of this growth, organisms living in the water will find themselves competing for oxygen with these bacteria. Worse still, if the environment is in favor of the bacteria, the increase in bacterial growth will cause them to use up all the oxygen. This results into death of water dwelling animals like fish, (Helme & Hespanhol, 1997)
Causes of Water Pollution and Remediation Measures
The types of water pollution have to be established first. As we have seen, point source pollution usually comes from a single source. On the other hand, if the source of pollution is not definite it is called non point-source pollution. Hence, we have surface water pollution and ground water pollution. However, transboundary pollution may also occur. Transboundary pollution is when nuclear wastes leak into the water system in the underground and manifests several miles away.
Causes of water pollution include sewage, waste water, and dumping of waste in the marine environment. On the other hand, industrial effluent and nuclear wastes, which are radioactive, do also cause pollution. In addition to this, oil leaks and leakage from underground storage facilities can also cause great harm to the environment. Deposition of chemicals in the atmosphere, global warming, and eutrophication are also major ways of polluting water (Water treatment information, 2010).
Preventing Water Pollution
Prevention of water pollution is one of the remediation measures that aim at keeping the water clean. Below are ways in which we can help in preventing water pollution;
Dumping in the ocean should be carried off further offshore. This will reduce the concentration on toxic substances in the water. However, this method needs to be disallowed because it still contaminates the marine environment.
Public education will help a great deal in ensuring that substances such as pesticides near water bodies do not have effect on the ecology of the water life. Atmospheric deposition should be discouraged so that these chemical substances do not infiltrate into the ways (Scipeeps, 2010).
Another way of preventing water pollution is by use of strict laws which punishes all those who disposes their factory effluents to the river without treating it. The government can also introduce taxes or the emerging trade in Transferable Emission Permits, (TEP). The TEPs enables the more polluting companies to buy emission permits from less emitting factories but at a higher price than the original buying price. The main aim of this strategy is to discourage the polluting factories from excessive pollution.
All people must join hand in ensuring that water conservation practices are upheld. If water is not conserved, it will be depleted hence ending the livelihood of many including animals and plants. Thus, it is a cost effective way of reducing the demand for this commodity. It is also an environmental friendly way of reducing this demand.
Economizing on water also reduces the pressure on sewage treatment systems. If we economize on water, less energy will be used in heating water. For example, population in Los Angeles has swelled up yet the city has been using the same amount of water notwithstanding (Monolake committee, 2010).
Benefits of Conserving Water
The benefits of conserving water include those concerned with energy. Since energy is used in treating and pumping water, the less water we use, the less energy will be demanded by this sector.
Thus, conservation of water is accompanied by conservation of energy. Water conservation also goes hand in hand with saving money. This practice is quite easy to accomplish and one does not need a lot of time to save on water usage (Howard, 2010). When money is saved, it can be used in other important areas of investment so that sustainable economic growth is enhanced.
Examples of ways in which you can participate in water conservation are; watering your garden only when needed and capturing cold water from the tap as you wait for the hot water to come out. This captured water can later be used in your garden irrigation. A swimming pool can also be covered using a water resistant fabric.
This can help reduce the amount of evaporation from the pool. Also, there should be proper dispose of hazardous substances so that they don’t contaminate large amounts of water. If chemicals are disposed in a proper way so that there is no leakage, there will be reduced contamination of water. A small amount of chemicals can contaminate a large amount of water. Thus, less money will be spent in proper dispose of chemical waste than in treating the contaminated water.
We have to understand that for us to achieve sustainable growth, water conservation has to be given a priority. As we have seen, if we conserve water, other elements will also be conserved. Thus, the less water we use the less energy we consume, hence, the less the money we spend. In the end, we can use the money in investment to other important fields. Pollution of water takes a great toll in the economy of a country. If water is polluted, it will become unsafe to some uses such as domestic use.
Since its quality has been altered, it may become useless for irrigation purposes and even in some specific industries like those industries that manufacture beverages. Thus, if the quality of water is altered more money will be used in purifying it hence it becomes an expensive practice. Since prevention is better than cure, rather than treating the water, it is better to prevent its pollution because the process of prevention is cheaper in relation to time, money, and other resources.
Recommendations have to be made regarding the use, conservation measures and methods of preventing pollution of water. Water pollution can cause health problems to the ecosystem. These health problems will end up costing the economy in some sense. Thus, environmental policies should be formulated to ensure that water pollution is prevented. Water regulatory agencies should ensure that any company involved with dumping should be monitored.
The use of water should also be regulated. This will be able to enhance conservation of water so that the fiscal budget of water is reduced. In addition, the policy of further offshore dumping is still causing problems to the marine ecosystem. Thus, this policy should be abolished and new methodologies embraced so that marine ecosystems are not tampered with.
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