We’re fighting over “blue gold” already. According to UNESCO, there were 1,831 water related conflicts around the world between 1950 and 2000 alone.
Water is integral to our food security. 70% of global water is used in agriculture.
The irrigated area on earth has doubled over the past 50 years to feed the burgeoning population and in the next 40 years we may need to produce as much food as in all of history up to now. Water shortages bring the spectre of famine and devastating humanitarian crises in their wake.
We have seen food prices rise as a result of long-term drought in California and Latin America where crop losses have been as high as 70%. The price of beans quadrupled in places. Drastic measures were taken. In 2014, we witnessed a state of emergency in Guatemala, water rationing in Venezuela, subsided food and food aid programmes in Nicaragua and Honduras.
At the same time, we are bio-fuelling hunger by using agricultural land and water to grow crops for fuel rather than food, driving further rises in food prices. The expansion of corn ethanol in the US increases the cost of corn used in tortillas, Mexico’s staple diet. Recognising the controversy, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has now issued guidance on Bioenergy and Food security criteria.
Our addiction to fast fashion adds to the problem. Cotton, in particular, is incredibly water intensive. According to NASA, the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake, has now completely dried up, releasing pesticides and carcinogenic dust into the atmosphere due to cotton production. Yet at the same time, WRAP’s Valuing Our Clothes report shows that 1/3 of the clothes we buy end up in the bin. Extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months would reduce water footprint by 20-30% and save billions in resource costs.
Surely we can wear that T-shirt for a little bit longer?
Thankfully, business is waking up. Water crisis is now rated the number 1 global risk in terms of impact by the World Economic Forum in its Global Risks report (10th edition). There are actions aplenty as the issue has shot up the business agenda.
But it’s time to look in the mirror at our own behaviour. I’m fortunate to live in an area where water is plentiful. Most people take it utterly for granted. They have no knowledge of the looming water crisis which is distant and far removed from everyday reality. It’s inconceivable that we could ever run out, so saving water is not part of everyday consciousness. A third of clean water supplied to UK homes is simply flushed down the loo and forgotten.
That’s why this World Water Day #Water is a wake-up call. It’s time to raise our voices and lift our blinkers to become just a little more water conscious today and every day
Note: Unless stated, all evidence quoted can be found in our Reason report, which can be downloaded here: http://www.how-on-earth.co.uk/reports/reason