For us as humans water is vital. The United Nations estimate that a person need at the very least, 20 litres of water per day for drinking, cooking and cleaning. However, 894 million people worldwide (one in six) do not have access to safe, fresh water.
In the developed world this is little more than a sobering statistic, clean, drinkable water pours from a tap. But in third world nations 1.5 million children die per year from illnesses because they either can’t access water at all, or the little they can lacks even the most basic sanitation.
Yet even if we were to provide sanitation to every person in Sub Saharan Africa, we would still be faced with many unresolved issues surrounding water.
To begin with, there is physical scarcity. It may look as if there is water all around, but of the total 1.4 billion km3 of water (both fresh and salty) contained on earth, less than 1% is available for use by humans and freshwater ecosystems. The majority of the unavailable freshwater is trapped as ice and snow, while the difference is made up of groundwater, soil water, and atmospheric water.*
This leaves us 13, 000 km3 of fresh water, spread unevenly across the globe. In New Zealand we are lucky to have a surplus of this precious resource, while our neighbours across the Pacific are often challenged by drought, forcing them to restrict water use, and raising grave concerns for the future.
If we throw the looming threat of climate change into the equation, things become more fraught and uncertain. With summer ice and glacier melt being a huge source of water to millions of people, the loss of alpine glaciers is likely to have a devastating effect.
And the part that I find most frustrating? Despite all these challenges, New Zealand is both economically and geographically blessed when it comes to fresh clean water. Yet this is a stroke of luck we use and abuse.
A study conducted in 2009, which tested rivers across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, found that the Manawatu River (located in the central North Island) was one of the most polluted rivers in the study. The Manawatu is contaminated with treated sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff. This is a sad fact indeed for New Zealand.
With such a range of issues, from poverty to scarcity, climate change to wilful damage, there is a lot for me to discuss about water. But when it really comes down to it, I guess my motivation is the fact that freshwater is a relevant topic for every single person on the planet.
*Statistics from United Nations Water