The global water crisis

January 22nd, 2020

India on the brink of disaster

Experts predict that sometime in the year 2020, 21 major cities in India will run out of groundwater, including the capital of New Delhi and Bangalore, one of the world’s major tech centers. Chennai, India’s sixth largest city, already ran out of groundwater last summer.

The situation in India is the perfect storm to create a major water crisis. India is home to a booming population that’s estimated around 1.37 billion people, according to For perspective, India has a population four times larger than the United States living in a country that’s one-third the size. Along with a growing population, the average temperature in India has been on the rise, with the past decade being the warmest on record. Unfortunately, India’s infrastructure hasn’t kept up with any of these changes. Sanitation systems are rapidly deteriorating, and other means of getting fresh water like rainwater harvesting and water recycling haven’t been properly implemented.

Lack of access to clean water in India already costs the lives of approximately 200,000 people each year. In addition to a multitude of water-related diseases, a lack of access to clean water also increases the risk for potentially life-threatening cases of heat stroke and dehydration, which are particular risks due to India’s rising temperatures.

Groundwater is the most common source of fresh water in the world. It’s the water that soaks into the ground and is accessed through wells and pumps for daily use. Without this groundwater, 600 million in India would be without a safe, readily available water source.

However, when water sources become depleted, the poorest, most vulnerable citizens are generally the hardest hit. People are forced to line up to fill up jugs of water for drinking, washing and preparing food for whole families. In many areas, organized crime syndicates have moved in to take advantage by taking over access to water sources and hiking up the price of access. 

The big picture

Water access isn’t a problem just in India, nor is it a problem only for a few isolated countries. The truth is that while the earth is 71% water, only 3% of that water is fresh, and only 0.5% is accessible. According to the World Health Organization, by 2025 half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas. The term water-stressed is used to describe areas where “demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use,” according to the GreenFacts website. Territories with long, hot dry seasons are hit hardest, but the size of the crisis and the areas affected are only increasing as the planet warms due to the effects of climate change.

In recent years, Cape Town, South Africa, only narrowly avoided completely running out of water and is in danger of reaching that point again. Historically, both Israel and Palestine have experienced major water shortages, which has increased tensions even more between the two nations over access to water sources like the Jordan River.

In the United States, major droughts that have struck both California and the Midwest in recent years have led to poor crop yields, driving up the cost of groceries. The water pollution woes in Flint, Michigan, continue nearly six years after the crisis was first reported in 2014. In the courts, the state of Georgia has battled with Tennessee for years over border lines and access to the Tennessee River. With access to the river, Georgia could have had up to 500 million additional gallons of water for those living in North Georgia and Atlanta.

Water keeps people clean, is required for cooking and is necessary for human survival. It’s estimated that a human can, at most, survive only one week without a drink of water. But the stark reality, according to a report from the United Nations, is that approximately 2.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and 4.2 billion lack safely managed sanitation services. 

Potential solutions and the setbacks

Water access isn’t a new issue, but it’s a growing one. For years, scientists and public policy experts have been looking for ways to increase the availability of fresh water. There are a number of creative solutions, but unfortunately some of these solutions have limitations or side effects that may outweigh the benefits.

One solution would involve importing water to drier areas with large populations from less populated areas where water is more abundant. This is a process used in many cities in California like Los Angeles and San Diego, who pay to have water imported from sources like the Colorado River. The trouble comes when the source is overtaxed due to extreme heat or droughts, which have become more frequent in recent years.

One of the most interesting solutions is a process called desalination. Desalination is a process that involves removing the salt from saltwater in order to make it usable fresh water. There are currently several desalination plants around the world, and they’re most heavily used in the Middle East and in North Africa.

Since approximately 97 percent of the world’s water is saltwater, this would seem like a fantastic solution. Unfortunately, desalination has serious shortcomings. First, the process requires an immense amount of energy. Second, because the desalination process requires so much energy and because the plants can be so expensive to build, the cost of this solution can be prohibitively high. Finally, the process leaves behind a byproduct called brine, which is water that includes a hyperconcentration of salt. For every gallon of fresh water produced, a gallon of brine is also pro duced. If brine is released back into the ocean, it can potentially be harmful to sea life, and there are currently no obvious solutions on how to dispose of this brine.

For many, access to fresh, drinkable water has been a given, but the truth isn’t that easy. Instead, this is a complex issue that raises questions about equality, justice, and how we act as good stewards of the earth that God has provided for us. 

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