Water is among the most valued natural resource. This mere fact acts to increase the rate at which it continues to be violated and threatened by human activity. The water resource is depleted and replenished through a complex structural setup that employs different factors and environmental features such as land cover, evaporation, industrialization, irrigation and water bodies.
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Water as a resource has a variety of economic benefits that accrue from its various uses. The continued exploitation of this resource however often occurs at an irreparable cost of impairment of the ecosystem and biodiversity.
This has explains the recent climatic changes and inconsistencies in the distribution of rainfall across the various regional divisions. This shortage has led to an even greater water crisis that comes in the form of water borne diseases that arise due to the lack of clean water.
The artificial centralized systems of water treatment hardly meet the exiting demand for clean water leaving a large number of people with little option but to use contaminated water. Consequently, up to 3.5 million people die every year from waterborne infections and diseases.
It is clear therefore that there is a permanent need to establish a policy framework to safeguard and protect this resource from constant depletion and impairment.
This has often taken the form of conventions motivated by scientific assessments and recommendations on the methods and means to diagnose and reverse this impairment trend. It is no longer a problem for the developed world alone since all persons rich or poor are united by the common need for sustainable fresh water supply
Are we running out of water?
One would then ask whether we are running out of water. Truth be told, the world’s supply of fresh water is slowly but steadily depleting. This fact sounds vague in the face of the scientific claim that at least 70 % of the planet is covered by water.
Out of this proportion however, less that 1 percent is available for human access and use. This small percentage is left to serve the large world population of over 6.7 billion that is predicted to grow to more than 8 billion in the next decade. This in effect leads to water stress especially in countries with high population growth rates.
Global statistics suggest that at least 30 states experience a considerable amount of water stress that ranges from either supply or disposal. This stress is made worse by the changing climatic structures that lead to unpredicted storms and floods that more often than not overwhelm the local sewage and waste management structures.
Indicators that we are running out of water vary from social, political and economic pointers. Only a decade ago, for instance the people in India never used to pay for water. It was considered as a natural resource that was readily available and at the disposal of every citizen.
In the modern day scenario the little available fresh water is highly prices and is in short supply. This clearly indicates that the amount of available fresh water is seriously decreasing.
The Availability of Water
Water is made an available through a wide range of contributory processes. The water resource is divided into two main categories; the surface and subsurface water. These are however part of a complex circulatory system of water depletion and replenishment.
The cycle of water often referred to as the hydrologic cycle begins with precipitation from rainfall that falls on land ad collects into rivers and streams. A considerable portion of the precipitated water is consumed by the vegetation alongside temporary reservoirs such as dams and lakes (Montaigne 57).
The rest seeps into the soil, infiltrates into the soil depending on the density of the soil, and forms part of the subsurface water. The portion that does not infiltrate runs off into rivers and lakes. A second portion of the precipitation evaporates and returns to the cloud cover and zone of unsaturated flow.
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The global statistics suggest that agriculture consumes up to 70 percent of the available water resource. The agricultural sector appliances require a lot of water and therefore take the greatest responsibility for the depletion of the resource.
Water stress and security
The stressors that threaten human water security
An analysis of the worldwide status of water as a human resource has been limited to the fragments of regional and state based assessments that show varying indicators of the water problem.
There is therefore a need to take a more diverse approach to the problem to establish the exact relevance of the human footprint on the varying levels of water resource availability.
Interpreted water management approaches have been used as a benchmark for the identification of the various stressors that threaten human security in the context of water as a human resource.
Evidentially there is an overwhelming amount of information on the possible causes and sources of the problem. This creates the need to develop a systematic account of the individual stressors and threats to human water security.
Human water security has varying definitions in different fields of interest. In as far as global resource management is concerned it defines a state of sustainable water supply. An analysis of the factors that inhibit the existence of human water security suggests that the following are the most dominant.
Mismanagement of waterways by human development and activity in the main water paths and watersheds is a great threat to human water security. The establishment of barriers to water paths for purposes such as electricity generation distorts the natural course of water and diverts the hydrological cycle of water. This distorts the supply of water and causes human water insecurity (Clasen 819–823).
A combination of environmental factors such as pollution, global warming and climate change take a lion share of the blame for the increasing statistics of human water insecurity. Pollution alongside environmental degradation accelerates the rate at which the cycle of supply of water is distorted.
This therefore disorients the climatic and natural forces of water supply leading to over and under supply of the resource. This is often displayed by catastrophes such as drought and famine.
The stressors that threaten biodiversity
Biodiversity falls in line with human water security. Biodiversity represents a variation of life forms in an ecological system. It is a measure of the stability and healthiness of a given ecosystem. The ecosystem acts as a habitat for more than one species organisms and creatures. This is however interfered with and affected by certain factors that include the following.
The unavailability of water causes the loss and destruction of the natural habitat for the various species. Typically due to the increase in human activities alongside these habitats the available fresh water aggressively depletes effectively causing a loss of species.
Reduction in the available water reduces the amount of shelter available to species and limits their source of food. In effect they are slowly eliminated and diminished. Isolation of habitats through human developments and establishments such as dams and manmade lakes limits the migration of the species and subjects them to the risk of extinction in case of a disease (Maurer 2121–2130).
Agricultural activities on the other hand pose a serious threat to biodiversity. With the objective of maintaining sustainable water supply and availability, they often infringe into the natural habitats of the various species by introducing foreign substances such as pumps and generators that often change the ecological environment of the habitat in question.
Further they use toxic substances on their farms and allow the runoff from irrigation to flow into these habitats. This poisons the existing species and causes migration of the remaining ones. Agriculture and farming has gradually spread to majority of marine based habitats hence depleting and incapacitating the ecological capacity to house these species.
Other contributing factors such as increasing human population increase the competition for the water resource. The human capacity to exploit the resource more often than not overrides that of the ecological system.
This lack of fit threatens the existence of biodiversity due to water unavailability. Further overexploitation of the available water resource points is also to blame for the increased depletion of the water resource.
The increased concentration of human activity around a specific water resource leads to the overexploitation of such a resource and in effect leads to the death and reduction in the number of species that survive in the habitat.
Areas of the world have the greatest Water stress threat indices
The most hardly hit areas of the world in as far as water shortage is concerned are Africa and the middle east as well as countries along the gulf.
These countries are evaluated based on a water stress index, which is a measure and proportionalization of the amount of water consumption by the various sectors of the economy such as industry agriculture and domestic consumption as against the existing and available renewable sources of water such as rivers lakes and annual rainfall.
Out of the 17 states that are considered to be among the most hardly hit by the water shortage problem Bahrain stood out as being the most likely of states to experience water inadequacies followed closely by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The dominant water uses among these countries is in agriculture taking up to 60 percent of the available resource.
The rapid economic as well as population growth in the Gulf nations is the major motivating factor for the increase in the probability of water shortage. Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saud Arabia are considered as the most water stressed countries in a ranking that brought on board 186 counties in different continents.
This places water shortage among the most serious global concerns alongside global warming pollution and terrorism. It cuts across the regional divide and affects every user of the water resource. Water insecurity in these countries has had serious implications on the economic social and political grow indexes as well as related insecurities such as food insecurity (Liermann 345).
The peak water concept seeks to offer insight on the presence and availability of water resources. The most functional definition of the term uses a threefold approach that defines peak renewable, peak non-renewable and peek ecological water.
The amount of water in the planet is unlimited but the amount of available water is scarce. This is to imply that despite the large quantity of available water there is a very small fraction that is effectively managed.
The concept can be defined in the context of global water shortages and stresses as an explanation of these problems and challenges. Countries across the globe continue to survive amidst the stresses and constraints of water shortage.
The situation is worsened by the increasing competition for the resource and the increased extraction of subsurface and surface water. There is therefore depend relation between the human water security and the peak water constraints.
This relationship forms the basis for the organization and strategic management of the use and protection of non-renewable sources of water to reduce the risk of water shortage and ecological damage.
Peak ecological water?
This term defines a specific theoretical point at which the ecological gap attained from the available water resource is equal to the human value and benefit derived from the water resource. In effect it is a compromise between ecological interests and human interests in the water resource.
This theoretical balance is the equilibrium beyond which there the human activities interfere with the ecological balance and below which the ecological balance will have a healthy share of the interest in the water reserve.
Breaching this point caused far-reaching effects on the ecological system as well as the human society. It is therefore importance to maintain a margin of safety below the peak ecological water.
The current global situation shows that majority of states have by passes the peak ecological water level. This in effect implies that the human interests have over appropriates the water resource and interfered with the ecological balance.
This has culminated in the eminent water problems and concerns that are characterized by drought famine and floods. This over appropriation has seen a reduction in the number of rivers that reach the sea since they are diverted to serve other economic and strategic purposes.
This has extended to the political realm as nations scramble for the remaining fresh water resources. States may find it economically feasible to transport oil over long distances die to its high value. However, this is not the case for water since the cost of desalinating water and transporting it inland is far too expensive.
Nations therefore prefer to remain in the constant state of water stress. Despite the world taking up over 50 percent of the total available fresh water, there is still an acute shortage of the resource.
Environmental scientists separate the interpretation of these two terminologies to underscore the importance of the two concepts in their varying respects. Peak water is a general term that allows for an interpretation of the availability of water as a resource.
In effect it covers a wide range of factors concepts and explanations. The term peak ecological water on the other hand offers a benchmark and threshold for the evaluation of the balance of interests in the water resource. It is a point of reference upon which the valid interests of the environment and ecological system are at par with those of human beings
Undeniably the majority of nations have breached the peak ecological water threshold. The effects are eminent in the recent climatic changes that have caused massive destruction of property and lives in the form of hurricanes, drought and famine.
The search for a sustainable solution has landed policy makers and environmental researchers on certain key undertakings.
The major causes of water insecurity are t stressors of human diversity and human water insecurity. It is a sustainable solution therefore is one that recognizes the need for a permanent solution for the control and reversal of these stressors to mitigate their damage (Slaughter pp. 42-49).
Stressors such as pollution environmental degradation and interference with the ecological environment can be taken care of through policymaking. Those who contribute the most to pollution should take the greatest economic and social responsibility by taking the necessary measures to reduce pollution.
Individual efforts could also go a long way in maintaining water security as well as ecological protection. Opting for ecological friendly alternatives to the exploitation of natural resources reduces the infringement of the ecological position and interest.
The soft path for water as distinguished from the “hard path”
The soft water path for water is a concept that is associated with the supply end of water as a scarce resource. It advocates for large scale based infrastructural arrangements that ensure that there is sustainable water security.
It embraces the need to use technological and physical alternatives such as drills and boreholes as alternatives to water security. The hard path on the other hand advocates for the traditional approach to sustainable water security such as the building of dams and pipelines. The sot path differs from the hard path in certain ways;
- The soft path advocates form more than just supply of water but for sustainable supply of water to the needs of the demand.
- Soft water advocates or the provision of varying qualities of water depending on the use while the hard path advocates for random supply
- The soft path is a strategic preplanned approach to water management while the hard path uses inherent means to provide water.
The need for sustainable water supply is pegged heavily on the individual’s consumption of the resource. Cultivation of a culture of ecological awareness will go a long way in reducing the gap between the current situation and the ecological peak water.
Similarly it is important to acknowledge the value attached to the individual per individual consumption of water. A reduction in this ration will act to reduce the national share of exploitation of the water resource. It is these localized alternatives that will facilitate a state in achieving water security.
It is also important to give credence to the progress that has been made by localized organizations that have offered reliable and sustainable water security solutions. They are an important step towards human water security.
The Pekera irrigation scheme in Kenya has over the last ten years since its creation offered the east African region a constant supply of farm produce such as rice and other legumes. The Pekera region had for a long time suffered the effects of water shortage that had resulted in numerous deaths whenever drought occurred.
During the rainy season the flat terrain alongside the clay soils would hold water causing a great problem of flooding that brought with it water related diseases such as cholera and malaria.
This localized solution has not only, maintained a constant supply of the scarce water resource for the farmers in the region but has also offered food security for the members of the Pekera society. Localized solutions to the water security problems are small but effective and alternatives to the water problem.
In India a more traditional approach to the water problem is being adopted. The villagers have adopted a more traditional approach that involves construction of dams using the locally available materials’ and means. This not only leaves the control of the water resource to the people but also allows them to fully participate in the provision of a sustainable solution to the water problem.
They then use the water from the dams to irrigate their crops and for their animals. The remaining fresh water sources are left for domestic use. This not only offers a permanent solution for the water problem but also ensures that the community takes responsibility for the maintenance and safeguarding of the ecological environment around these reservoirs and dams.
In South Africa on the other hand the white farmers have adopted a soft path approach that has been motivated by the large scale farms. They have formed self help groups that mobilize collective funds to finance the construction and digging of boreholes within specific areas.
The water is then shared among several farms that then use it for agricultural and domestic purposes. The excess is channeled to dams and reservoirs that store the water for future use. This mixed approach has ensured that the vibrant South African agricultural sector receives a reliable and constant supply of water.
Water security can only be achieved with individual as well as corporate partnership (United States Environmental Protection Agency 86). A collective effort through localized arrangements has gone a long way to assist societies in India Kenya and South Africa survive the effect of water stress. Therefore a localized arrangement is the best solution to the problem of human water insecurity.
Clasen, Thomas. et al. Laboratory assessment of a gravity-fed ultra filtration water treatment device designed for household use in low-income settings. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 80, 819–823.2009.
Liermann Reidy et al. Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature. Vol 4.no 7.2010.
Maurer, Max. Specific net present value: An improved method for assessing modularization costs in water services with growing demand. Water Research 43, 2121–2130.2009.
Montaigne Fen. Water Pressure. National Geographic Society. 2005 available at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/#top
Slaughter, S. Improving the Sustainability of Water Treatment Systems: Opportunities for Innovation. Journal Solutions. Vol 1, No. 3. pp. 42-49 2010.- United States Environmental Protection Agency. Drinking water infrastructure needs survey and assessment: Fourth report to Congress U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Washington, DC, 2009.