Generally speaking, humanity itself is the greatest threat to clean water, but that hardly accounts for the species’ well-documented ability to adapt.
The trick, of course, is figuring out ways to do this while still moving forward in terms of growth, productivity and the betterment of the global community. As the needs of the world’s citizens evolve, so must the ways in which those needs are met so that future generations may also prosper.
The balance between growth and preservation of necessities like clean water is a difficult one, to say the least, but addressing the five threats below will help guarantee the stewardship of the world’s most valuable natural resource.
1. Poor Sanitation
Poor water sanitation leads to literally millions of deaths a year, and is a product of insufficient infrastructure funding and a lack of education about the importance of sanitation. Nearly 1 billion people, mostly in Asia, use “unimproved water sources” for their daily water needs that results in widespread disease.
Some critics are quick to blame overpopulation, but fortunately the United Nations and other organizations have declared access to clean water a fundamental human right, removing population statistics from the equation and making it clear that clean water is more than a commodity – it is a necessity.
2. Industrial Waste
Industrial waste is a fact of modern life and even if it is completely eradicated it will be at a time too far in the future to not acknowledge and confront the effects it is having now. Global economies rely on production and this necessarily results in dangerous byproducts that must be properly managed.
This problem differs from sanitation in that education and investment are not hindrances to measurable success and waste containment – it is a matter of government regulation and the adherence to environmentally responsible business practices by global industry leaders.
3. Pharmaceutical Waste
For better or worse, Western civilization has grown to embrace the prolific use of pharmaceutical products. It is a multi-billion dollar industry that produces drugs for every imaginable ailment, with a significant portion of those medications ending up in the water supply.
A 2008 report in the Associated Press indicated pharmaceutical residue was found in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas with exposure rates exceeding 40 million people.
The problem is that conventional water treatment methods cannot always prevent contamination resulting from the drugs that end up in the water system, and the issue is one of personal responsibility as much as it is pharmaceutical regulation.
Compared to the rest of the world’s ills, littering seems like a problem hardly worth mentioning and its absence in recent news confirms many people agree; however, littering is the people’s version of industrial waste and it is a real problem that impacts clean water.
It is important for people to remember that storm drains and ditches do not flow through water treatment facilities, so when a person dumps motor oil in the street or throws garbage out of a window into the ditch, contaminants from those actions are leaching into the water bed. Consider this scenario on a global level and one can begin to appreciate how much litter can impact fresh water resources.
5. Irresponsible Water Use
Pollution is not the only threat to clean water. Water stress is rampant not only in non-industrialized nations, but also where the natural resource is abundant and when those who have access to it live under the misconception that that access will last forever.
Researchers estimate that of the water on the planet only 2.5% of it is fresh water suitable for drinking, agricultural use and many industrial applications, and a far smaller percentage of this is “renewable” and available for human use.
This means that responsible stewardship of the world’s fresh water is even more important now than it will be later, because polluting it now decreases the overall amount of available water and without proper means of remediation it will remain unavailable for later use. Individuals, corporations and governments must act in the present to preserve this vital resource for the future.
This article was written by James Madeiros who writes Seametrics, a manufacturer of water flow meters and an advocate for clean water.