Climate and water: will it be too dry or too wet?

We can no longer ignore it: climate change affects our water management and that is an international problem. This is also evident from the most recent climate report. But what will it be: will we get wet feet or will it get too dry? And what can we do?

Drinking water is scarce

You would think that there is more than enough water on our planet, but freshwater is a scarce resource and drinking water even more so: 97.5% of all water on earth is too salty for consumption.

Of the remaining 2.5%, a large part is trapped in glaciers and polar ice, namely 70%. That leaves 30%, so 0.75% of the total, in the form of groundwater, swamps, permafrost and a tiny bit in rivers and lakes.

Water is still seen as an inexhaustible resource in many Western countries, but it is coming under increasing pressure due to climate change. At the same time, 771,000,000 people still have no access to drinking water.

Water scarcity and climate change

Water scarcity is caused by a complex set of fluctuating, interacting human and environmental factors. Climate change is an important cause of water scarcity. For example, the persistent heat is leading to the drying up of water sources in some places.

But climate change also leads to a rise in our sea level, causing flooding. These not only lead to dangerous situations, but also to pollution and salinization of water sources. Where it is too dry in some places, it becomes too wet in other places.

Then there is, of course, the water wastage and water pollution on a large scale, which reduces the availability of (safe) water even more. Contrast all these problems with a growing world population and water scarcity emerges.

Land subsidence and sea level rise

Land subsidence is one of the major challenges in coastal areas. In most cases, this is caused by the extraction of groundwater from the area. As a result, the Netherlands has already sunk about three meters since the Middle Ages.

At present, subsidence is accelerating faster than sea level rise in many coastal areas. But the consequences are more or less comparable: more salinisation, greater risk of flooding. To halt or slow down the decline, countries must change their water supply and agriculture.

Tokyo shows that this is possible and that it quickly leads to results. Until 1975, Tokyo was the fastest declining city in the world. Since groundwater is no longer used in households and industry, the soil has not subsided.

36 countries currently face extreme water shortages


Days without water

The report “Thirsting for a Future” by Unicef shows that there are currently 36 countries with extreme water shortage. Recently, major cities such as São Paulo (Brazil), Chennai (India) and Cape Town (South Africa) suffered acute water shortages. Last year Cape Town barely escaped from Day Zero: the day that not a single drop would come out of the tap.

There will probably be more Days Zero in the future,” Betsy Otto of the American World Resource Institute (WRI) claims in The New York Times. The WRI states that water stress is highest in the Middle East and North Africa – with Qatar as the absolute number one.

Why is lack of access to clean water problematic?

The consequences of water scarcity

We cannot live without water. Therefore we see that, in the areas with a high level of water stress, the population is going to use polluted water. This makes them vulnerable to deadly diseases such as cholera and diarrhea. While diarrhea hardly causes much problems in the Western world, it still is the #1 cause for child mortality in developing countries.

In 2021, 800,000 people died as a result of polluted water. This mortality is insidious and less visible than a major flood, but it does claim many more victims.

But water scarcity also indirectly leads to poverty. After all, you cannot go to school or work when you (serioulsy) ill. This is affecting mainly women and young girls, who are mostly in charge of fetching water.

Conflicts over water

Another problem that arises in areas where there is water scarcity is the threat of conflicts. In recent decades, Iran and Turkey have built hundreds of dams in the Middle East to meet their water needs. Other countries in the region, especially Iraq and Syria, paid a high price for this: drought, social turmoil and conflicts. The image shows the dam under construction in Ethiopia that is causing problems for a lake in Kenya.

There are plans for 3,700 dams worldwide. They are constructed for the water supply, but also for the generation of electricity without CO2 emissions. However, a dam changes the water dynamics in the region, but equally important is that a dam stops the flow of sediments (sand, gravel, clay and other sediment carried by the water). This leads to increasing erosion downstream, which means that less water is retained locally.

What can we do?

According to a recent report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, almost 80% of all water in the world is used for agriculture. It’s not just about food, by the way, because your cotton sweater also contains a lot of water. Innovative agricultural methods can therefore yield significant gains in reducing water use.

And at home? Shorter showers, water-saving taps and less watering in the garden can do wonders. And did you know that a car wash uses less water than washing the car yourself? This is because the water is reused there.

Contribute to SDG 6

Access to clean water and sanitation is sixth on the list of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

We believe that in the future we will find ways to continue to meet our water needs. But we want everyone around the globe to enjoy clean and safe (drinking) water. That is why we are committed to those for whom water scarcity is already a problem today. Therefore we operate in areas where the government is not planning or able to install a safe water supply. Today we are starting the future of tomorrow: a future with clean drinking water for everyone.

Today we start the future of tomorrow: a future with clean drinking water for everyone. And you can also contribute: as a person, with your company, your restaurant or your hotel, for example.

Clean water for all

Access to clean water and sanitation is sixth on the list of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Our mission: access to clean water and hygiene for all. Do you want to learn more on how we work and how to contribute?

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