“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” – Benjamin Franklin
Unfortunately, Franklin’s words do not hold true today; the well is dry, and humans’ inadequate reaction to the dwindling of this natural resource has amplified a global disaster. In fact, Howard Perlman of the U.S. Geological Study reports that 663 million people lack access to clean water while, ironically, the average person wastes 95 percent of his or her daily consumption. This scarcity severely affects the health and prosperity of mankind. Global standards of living are greatly reduced, while populations suffer and die from waterborne illnesses.
Around the globe, government corruption is a primary contributor to water scarcity. Dishonest politicians accept bribes from businesses to permit them to illegally eliminate waste in the public water supply. In one recent example, California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), a government-regulated board, confessed to illegally allowing the oil industry to dispose waste into California’s protected aquifers. As a result, the state – already experiencing a severe drought – struggles to provide citizens with adequate drinking water, since its precious reservoirs have been contaminated due to corruption.
Such examples are unfortunately not rare; local and federal politicians across the globe participate in lobbying that jeopardizes the clean water supply. However, political corruption is not limited to lobbying; government workers mismanage monetary resources dedicated to the water sector. In fact, according to the World Bank, 20 percent to 40 percent of the worldwide capital allotted to the water sector is lost due to corruption. With this in mind, politicians inflate the cost of water to compensate while governments cannot afford to provide an adequate water source. Thus, unsanitary water continues to be the only available option for far too many people.
Class warfare is another major factor in the water crisis that leads to unfair distribution of water in many countries. For example, in developing countries such as Afghanistan, wealth determines accessibility to clean water. Unless they own land or a pump, people must depend on unsanitary, sparse sources of surface water.
In addition, the cleanliness of a community’s water source is often based on social standings. Waste is illegally dumped into water sources near low-income communities. In a recent example, the Flint Water Crisis in Michigan violated the Clean Water Act, a primary federal U.S. law. When the community’s water source was switched to the Flint River, the government failed to test drinking water for lead contamination. Flint is a community with a high percentage of low-income families and minorities. Class warfare globally contributes to a lack of authoritative action to insure the safety of poorer communities.
Furthermore, humans’ impact on the environment contributes to the clean water crisis. Pollution and overconsumption are threats to the 1 percent of water on the Earth that can be consumed. Pesticides and chemicals used during crop cultivation contaminate usable ground and surface water. Aquifers are emptied faster than the Earth can naturally replenish them. Human trivialities such as green lawns and long showers waste the most dependable supply of clean water stored naturally underground.
The World Wildlife Fund reports that another factor contributing to the groundwater shortage is humans disrupting the hydrologic cycle, or the movement of water in Earth’s atmosphere. Urbanization leads to the construction of hard surfaces such as asphalt and the destruction of wetlands, watersheds, and marshes, all natural systems that help rainwater filter into the ground and replenish aquifers. The hydrologic cycle is further stressed when pollution raises surface temperature, causing water to evaporate faster, which means less makes it back into the groundwater supply.
It is important to understand the human impact on the water supply, for unlike natural disasters, man-made catastrophes can be avoided. Hurricanes and tsunamis pollute and destroy water supplies, while drought depletes them. If man continues to waste existing water sources, when natural disasters occur, the water crisis will become even more chaotic. With this in mind, it is clear both man and nature are stressing the limited sources of water, creating a crisis that affects billions worldwide.
It is important to understanding the factors that contribute to the clean water crisis. Comprehending this, one can combat the crisis. For example, citizens should be involved in the water concerns of their community and stand up to political corruption. Or they can advocate for those who are being exploited because of lower social class or economic status. Even simple efforts to reduce water waste will combat this crisis. However, more involvement is needed. Clean water is a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for the wealth and powerful. Everyone deserves this basic resource necessary for life.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.