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Thursday, September 21, 2023
MADRID, Aug 22 2022 (IPS) - This is how the Muslims’ Holy Book – the Quran refers to the most precious element of life.
Now comes the question if water is finite or infinite? UNESCO says that it is “of limited quantity.” And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that water use has been growing globally at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century.
Anyway, the reality is that, over the last decades, Planet Earth has been facing an alarming problem of water scarcity.
Indeed, it is estimated that over 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries, which is expected to be exacerbated in some regions as a result of climate change and population growth.
Why is water scarce?
Before going further, it might be convenient to report that there are several dimensions of water scarcity that can be summarised as follows:
– Scarcity in availability of fresh water of acceptable quality with respect to aggregated demand, in the simple case of physical water shortage;
– Scarcity in access to water services, because of the failure of institutions in place to ensure reliable supply of water to users;
– Scarcity due to the lack of adequate infrastructure, irrespective of the level of water resources, due to financial constraints.
To the above data, UNESCO reports that 80% of all industrial and municipal wastewater is released into the environment. And that 50% of all malnutrition is due to the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene.
Food under threat
This already catastrophic situation is so grim that, in addition to the life of humans, animals, plants -–in short ‘Every Living Thing’–, one of the sectors that most depend on water–crops is now highly endangered.
Indeed, since the 1950s, reminds the United Nations, innovations like synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides and high-yield cereals have helped humanity dramatically increase the amount of food it grows.
“But those inventions would be moot without agriculture’s most precious commodity: fresh water. And it, say researchers, is now under threat.”
Among the major causes that this international body highlights is that in some arid areas, there has been an increase in the amount of wastewater used to grow crops.
“The problem can be exacerbated by flooding, which can inundate sewage systems or stores of fertiliser, polluting both surface water and groundwater.”
Now take a closer look at what is behind the decline of the world’s per capita freshwater reserves and how this is affecting farmers, as explained by the world body specialised in environmental issues.
Drought and aridification
Research shows that global warming is sparking longer-lasting droughts, like the record-setting dry spells that have gripped East Africa and the Western United States. This, say experts, is a prime example of climate change in the flesh.
Groundwater supplies 43% of the water used for irrigation. But improvements in drilling technology over the last few decades have led to its unsustainable extraction in parts of the world, such as India.
FAO estimates that 10% of the global grain harvest is being produced by depleting groundwater resources.
Intensive irrigation can lead to a rise in the water table, syphoning salt into the soil and the roots of plants, affecting their growth.
As well, the overuse of groundwater can combine with climate-change-induced sea-level rise to cause saltwater to penetrate coastal groundwater aquifers. This can damage crops and their yields and affect drinking water supplies.
UNEP estimates that around one-tenth of rivers around the world are affected by salinity pollution.
Humanity has altered more than 70% of the Earth’s land area, causing what the Global Land Outlook called “unparalleled environmental degradation”. In many places, the ability of soils to store and filter water is waning, making it harder to grow crops and raise livestock.
All the above also leads to the steady loss of biodiversity.
The markets and the short-term profits
The way nature is valued in political and economic decisions is both a key driver of the global biodiversity crisis and a vital opportunity to address it, according to a four-year methodological assessment by 82 top scientists and experts from every region of the world.
The Assessment Report on the Diverse Values and Valuation of Nature, released on 11 July 2022 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), finds that:
Why is it now degraded faster than ever?
“Biodiversity is being lost and nature’s contributions to people are being degraded faster now than at any other point in human history,” said Ana María Hernández Salgar, Chair of IPBES.
“This is largely because our current approach to political and economic decisions does not sufficiently account for the diversity of nature’s values.”
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