With the rapid population growth, economic progress, and new dietary preferences across the globe, there has been an increase in water demand, which has subsequently led to increased pressure on the water resources. This has seen different regions experience water scarcity, where the overall demand for water cannot be met by the current supply (Liu et al. 2017). There have been trends of over-exploitation of the surface water and an extreme reliance on the non-renewable groundwater resources, which have contributed to worries on the sustainability of water for use. The earth’s surface is said to be two-thirds covered with water. However, 97% of this water is salty, which explains the pressure on the water resources (SciVal, 2011). Global water shortage is clearly a societal problem that needs to be addressed. This paper presents an argument that offers the background of the problem, reasons why global water shortage is a societal problem, proposes a solution, and analyzes the ethical issues that are likely to be experienced from the proposed solution.
Evidently, the sustainable use of global water resources is the main factor that contributed to economic development and food production. The maximum global potential for consumptive freshwater has been noted to almost have been achieved. The increasing population pressure has caused these changes in water consumption behavior and climate change. The population all over the globe has been noted to quadruple over the last few centuries. Over the decade in the 2000s, it was established that the population had reached over 6.5 billion. During the same period, the annual consumptive blue water per capital increased from about 209 m3 cap-1yr-1 noted in the 1990s to 230 in the 2000s. The trends in water consumption have been stable around regions such as Southern America, but reduced in the Middle East, South Africa, Northern Africa, and increased in Australia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Due to fast-paced population growth, water consumption rates have caused nearly a 16-fold rise in the population facing water shortage within the 20th Century (Kummu et al., 2016).
Scarcity in the physical blue water is categorized into water shortage and stress. Water shortage refers to the impact of low water presence per person. Water shortage depends on resource and per capita requirement, which can be understood as population-caused scarcity. Water stress refers to the impact of high water use through withdrawal or consumption; water stress is thereby considered demand-driven scarcity. Understanding the concept of water scarcity; it is important to combine these two elements together as they offer a more comprehensive idea (Kumme et al. 2016).
Different indicators are applied in an effort to understand the concept of water shortage. These include the Falken Indicator, water use to availability ratio, the IWMI indicator, and the Water Poverty Index (Liu et al., 2017). The Falken indicator is the most prevalent method of assessing the water scarcity based on the population in a given area and the volume of water available. This allows the calculation of the volume of water available per person (m3/cap/year). 1700m3/cap/year has been indicated to be the threshold for freshwater scarcity (Liu et al., 2017). Values below this level lead to social stress and competition for the water resource. If the value gets below 1000, this is referred to as high water scarcity, while values below 500 lead to a situation referred to as absolute scarcity. The water uses to availability ratio (critically ratio) is a preferred ratio since it makes a connection between water consumption and available renewable water resources. Water use occurs through either consumptions or water withdrawals. Water consumption considers the amount of water that is acquired from water sources such as rivers, lakes, and groundwater sources. Water withdrawal indicates the amount of water withdrawn from these sources. The water criticality ratio refers to high water stress as a situation where water withdrawal is more than 40% of the available water resources (Liu et al., 2017). The IWMI indicator is a measurement scale developed by the International Water Management Institute. This indicator combines physical and economic water scarcities. In so doing, it considers the proportion of water supply from renewable freshwater resource and the impact of water infrastructure. The Water Poverty Index seeks to establish a relationship between the physical extent of water availability, ease in abstraction, and extent of community welfare. The WPI is structured to assess the situations on weak water endowments and adaptive levels (Liu et al., 2017).
Global Water Shortage as a Societal Problem
The global water shortages are a societal problem poses a challenge to public health and general development. In 2011, the UNICEF and WHO approximated that 1.1 billion people lack access to a water supply and 2.6 do not have enough sanitation. This has resulted to a global health burden leading to approximately 1.6 million deaths annually from diseases related to lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene (Tarrass & Benjelloun, 2011). This points out that the issue of global water shortage is a societal problem that leads to other social problems.
Another reason that makes the global water shortage a societal problem is a connection to the human population. The annual global population growth is estimated to be 83 million. This causes an increase in water demand through different industries such as agriculture, consumers, and manufacturing. It also causes water resources crises all over the world. It is indicated that human uses of water outpace the ability of the water sources. Human activities such as over-exploitation of groundwater, polluted runoff, and erosion affect the water supply for agriculture and cities all over the world (Scival, 2011).
Over the last four decades, water use all over the globe has doubled to more than 1700 liters per person per day (Curry, 2010). This rate of growth in water consumption is noted to be by a factor of two for every twenty years. This indicated to be at least twice that of global population increase. This mismatch between water consumption and population growth has been connected to the spread of western and modernizing influences. Industrial demand for water accounts for over 90% of the total human water use thereby negatively affecting the amount of water available for domestic use (Curry, 2010). It is estimated that by 2025 the consumption of industrial water will be 200% higher than the levels in 1995. In the industrial consumption of water, agriculture is noted to be the largest consumer of water accounting for over 70% of the water use (Curry, 2010).
Perspectives from Different Disciplines
One perspective on global water shortage is based on urbanization. Urbanization has been noted to be one of the factors affecting economic development, use of energy, natural resources utilization, and the wellbeing of people. As at 2011, about 3.6 billion people lived in the urban areas. This population is expected to increase by 2.6 billion by 2050 (McDonald et al., 2014). This is bound to lead to an increase in demand for municipal water. This demand is not just driven by the rise in the urban population but also by the resulting economic development. Among the Millennium Development Goals, was the goal of increasing the access to a municipal supply of cleaner and safer water. Economic development that is associated with an increase in urbanization leads to an increase in per-capita water use. The overall increase in the total municipal water demand makes to search for new adequate and clean waters sources. The general characteristic of urban cities causes a large number of people to be concentrated in a small area, which leads to an increase in stress on a finite supply of water resource close to the city. In an attempt to meet the demand in urban cities, it leads to using of economic and political power to explore new sources of surface and groundwater and desalination (McDonald, et al., 2014).
Another important aspect that is essential in the analysis of the issue of global water shortage is based freshwater stress mainly caused by pressure from population growth. Population growth comes with effects such as an increase in water demand and demand for energy and food supply. A survey by the World Economic Forum indicated that the highest level of societal impact in the next decade would be water crises. In the recent decade, the trends have seen an increase in water use by twice the rate of the population growth. This is expected to lead to water stress due to unsustainable rates of water use and consumption. It is expected by 2050, the world will have an increased demand for food and energy to support 2-2.5 billion people. Meeting the food demand for the increase in the population will cause stress for water (Cosgrove & Loucks, 2015).
Another important element to consider in the issue of global water shortage is from an economic aspect. Nations need to set up their economies in a way that they can control the destructive effects of limited or excess water. Barriers to efficient water consumption and distribution are said to be socially and politically placed. Market forces do not determine the price of water nor do they represent scarcity. In most cases, prices for water are set by policy makers and do not reflect the realities of changing short-term and long-term scarcity and result costs and demand. The economic perspective views water as a public good or a human right. Technical-economic perspective, however, indicates that water is a private good and a renewable resource. As a renewable resource, it is required that the rate of usage of such resource is aligned with its capacity and timeframe for regeneration. This thereby calls for use sustainable use and consumption of water. From this perspective, global water shortage thereby arises when the rate of usage exceeds that of regeneration. This situation is made worse by the fact that water is a rival good where the use or consumption of a certain quantity makes this quantity unavailable for use by others (Citi GPS, 2017).
From a personal perspective, the world is not having a shortage of water, but a shortage of freshwater. The world’s seas and oceans hold the solution to the societal problem of global water shortage. The answer to the use of this water for consumption is to carry out desalinization. The process by rainfall formation through the warm air from ocean rising and cooling then providing fresh rainwater is evidence that there lies the solution. It is estimated that the installed capacity of desalination plants all over the world as of 2008 was 61 million m3 per day (Oyoh, 2017). Most of these systems are located in the Arab region as they account for 40% of the global capacity. In this region, desalination has been used to provide freshwater supply need to meet the surges in water demand amidst the increased scarcity of water resources.
Among countries where the desalination process has been effective is Kuwait. The fresh water supply in Kuwait is approximately 6 million m3/y. This would be expected to serve the demand for 350 million m3/y as at 2000 (Oyoh, 2017). This represents a true picture of water shortage. Without other sources, this country would be inhabitable. However, 90% of the water demand in Kuwait is met through the desalination of the seawater. The country has a desalination capacity of approximately 1.65 million m3/d (Oyoh, 2017). Kuwait situation highlights how desalination can be the ultimate solution to curbing the global water shortage.
Among the key ethical issue associated with the desalination plants and process is the environmental concerns. This mandates that the site for desalination be located away from residential area. The environmental issues that are likely to emerge from such a plant include noise pollution, visual pollution, reduction in reaction fishing zone, emissions, and brine discharge. The reverse osmosis process that is the most preferred method in the desalination process has been found to be susceptible to fouling and scaling, which may end up affecting the water quality. This necessitates the need for treating the water. The brine, byproduct of the process, is normally twice concentrated as original seawater. This causes an environmental concern as it is released back into the sea and may end up affecting the aquatic life (Tularam & Ilahee, 2007).
The global water shortage has been noted to be a societal problem. It causes social challenges to public health and general development including health-related issues such as lack of access to safe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Water shortage is also closely tied to rapid population growth causing stress to water resources. Urbanization is among the lens used to view the issue of global water shortage. The increase in urban population has resulted in increased demand for the supply of cleaner and safer water. The economic perspective of global water shortage reveals that barriers to efficient water use and distribution have social and political relations. The paper proposed use of desalination as the solution to the issue of global water shortage. This would go a long way in providing for the deficit between the freshwater supply and demand from freshwater. Kuwait has been indicated as one nation that has thrived on using fresh water from the desalination process. Among the ethical issue arising from the process of desalination is on the environmental effects of such a plant.
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