Sunday, 3 July 2011

What’s the worry about water?

There are three main ways in which people and wildlife suffer with regards to water - drought, pollution and flood.

Of all the water on Earth, less than 1% is easily accessible freshwater for human consumption, and this water has to be shared with the natural environment. The little bit of water that we are left with is unevenly distributed in space and time, and sometimes is polluted. Over a billion people still lack access to improved water supplies, and one-third of us already live in water stressed areas.

If present levels of consumption continue, two-thirds of the global population will live in areas of water stress by 2025. Increasing human demand for water coupled with the effects of climate change mean that the future of our water supply is not secure.

Almost fifty per cent of the developing world’s population – 2.5 billion people – lack improved sanitation facilities, and over 884 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources. Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services, coupled with poor hygiene practices, kills and sickens thousands of children every day, and leads to impoverishment and diminished opportunities for thousands more.

Poor sanitation, water and hygiene have many other serious repercussions. Children – and particularly girls – are denied their right to education because their schools lack private and decent sanitation facilities. Women are forced to spend large parts of their day fetching water. Poor farmers and wage earners are less productive due to illness, health systems are overwhelmed and national economies suffer.

The effects of climate change can be seen in the UK and around the world. Already, British coastal waters have warmed and temperatures have risen. Globally, extreme weather is predicted to become more common – and animals, plants and crops are all expected to be badly affected.

UK coastal waters have warmed by about 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past three decades. In addition, the average sea level around the UK is now about 10 cm higher than it was in 1900.

Globally, the sea level could rise by 18 to 59 cm by the end of the century. Rising sea levels would swamp some small, low-lying island states and put millions of people in all low-lying areas at risk of flooding.

Eleanor Course

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