Over 70% of the planet’s surface is covered by water. There are also other forms of water such as ice and gas. The volume of water on the Earth has remained almost constant for more than a billion years at 344 million cubic miles. We could say that water is everywhere…so why do we constantly hear about impending shortages? To start off, 97.5% of the water on the Earth is in the ocean, which means that it is salty and not fit for our consumption. An interesting way to visualize this is if all the planet’s water filled a one-gallon container, we would only be able to consume less than a teaspoon of it.
The Earth is always recycling the water we use. However, we’re stressing the system by not allowing it enough time to replace the growing amounts that we demand. Can we make new water? Our galaxy is actually creating new water molecules all the time, but it is happening far from our planet and it is not possible to transport it here, yet. There certainly isn’t a clear solution and the demand for water is predicted to exceed supply by 40% by 2030.
On top of plants, animals and humans consuming all of the freshwater, climate change is further limiting our supply. The demand is primarily driven by agriculture, accounting for 90% of freshwater use every single year. The same forces that are driving demand for food – a global population boom and increasing preferences for animal protein are placing unsustainable pressure on water supplies.
Climate change and food-driven water demand are creating a disastrous problem that could shock global stability. We have already been seeing sever water shortages on a regular basis. According to the Nature Conservancy, 1 in 4 large cities are “water stressed.” In 2008, Barcelona came within days of running out of water and was forced to import a tanker of drinking water. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in water stressed conditions.
Now, water wars are on the horizon. Last September, the US National Intelligence Strategy released highlights in elevated potential for water scarcity to generate instability. In 2012, a US intelligence community report on Global Water Security warned that “During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important US policy objectives.”
Pakistan already has an ongoing dispute with India over access to water – radicals have called for “water jihad.” New Delhi is also fearful that a new Chinese dam project in Tibet will be used to restrict water supplies to Northern India. In March, Ethiopia neared conflict over the construction of a dam that could have limited Egyptian and Sudanese access to water. There is a similar disagreement over a Tajikistani dam that could restrict water access tin Uzbekistan. These are just a few of the tensions over water….so when will the global water happen?