According to the United Nations, the world's population will reach 8 billion by 2024 and more than 9 billion by 2040. As every one of these people needs clean water for survival, water is quite literally the essence of life. The UN has even made it one of their Sustainable Development Goals to “ensure access to water and sanitation for all.”
The struggle for clean water has grown as the population increases, and as countries look at the projections, the issue is taking center stage. Not only is it an issue of humanity, but people have also come to realize the importance water plays in everything from food and health, to energy and transportation.
“When the Well is Dry, We Know the Worth of Water.” – Benjamin Franklin
Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered in water and 97 percent of that water is salty. This leaves only about three percent that can be consumed and used for humanity. Of this 3 percent, two is locked up in ice caps and just 1 percent is left for the needs of humanity. This tiny percentage is found in ice, lakes, rivers, and surface freshwater.
To put the percentages into perspective, if all the world’s water fit into a gallon jug, only about 2 tablespoons would be the amount available for consumption.
Here are some other interesting facts:
- One in ten people, or about 663 million, lack access to safe water.
- One child dies every 15 seconds from water-related illness.
- Half the hospital beds of the world are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases.
The Water Crisis is the Number One Global Risk
The World Economic Forum in 2015 labeled water as the number one global risk based on societal impact. However, most of us in the United States are ignorant to this risk and take for granted the clean water we drink and use for hygiene. I emphasize most because access to clean and safe water is not just a third-world issue (we’ve all heard about contaminated water in Flint, Michigan).
Fortunately, public awareness is leading to increased safety and efficiency measures not only in the U.S., but around the globe as well.
One of the reasons water is at risk is due to how it is used and the efficiency of its usage. Not only is it used to survive, but it’s also necessary for economic productivity. Many products we use and consume on a daily basis require water in the manufacturing process. Consider these numbers:
- To brew a pint of beer, 45 gallons are required.
- Nearly 40 gallons are required for a morning cup of coffee.
- To manufacture 1 pound of plastic it takes 24 gallons.
- The water footprint of 1 pound of cotton is 1,320 gallons.
- Average daily use in U.S. factories is 18.2 billion gallons.
Agriculture expends 70 percent of all fresh water used, industrial production uses 20 percent, and domestic uses the remaining 10 percent. Plus, humans aren’t the only species dependent on fresh water. Ten percent of all life on the planet survive in fresh water, as do 35 percent of all vertebrates.
Animals are dependent on a functioning watershed that includes forests, grasslands, wetlands, lakes, streams, and floodplains. These same watersheds also filter and store our water supply. It’s critical that we maintain biodiversity and prevent the degradation of habitat if we are to ensure a clean uninterrupted supply of fresh water.
Some of these statistics are pretty amazing, which is why we continue to examine water, the need for updated water infrastructure, and sustaining it for future generations. Whether you are a project owner, developer, or architect, there are product and system choices you can incorporate to build a sustainable environment for all.