Freshwater is one of the most precious resources on which our life depends on without which we are only able to live for a few days. In fact our human body is made up of 70 percent water. Freshwater is so important in our lives and has helped countries to develop faster; in fact the most developed countries in the world are the most watered with fresh water. This essay will discuss the world's fresh water supply.
Fresh water is defined as the water that is fit for people to drink or use for their animals and crops. Virtually all human uses for water require fresh water for use, and water resources all those that are useful for such human uses like in agriculture, industrial, household and recreation. Although about 97 percent of the water is found in oceans, it is saline and unfit for human use and thus only 3 percent is fit for human use. Of the available fresh water, only 0.9 percent is available in lakes, rivers and streams where most of the water we use is at ad this represent only 0.007 percent of the total water available and the rest is locked up in glaciers and ice caps (68.7 percent) and another 30.1 percent as ground water.
A vast majority of fresh water supply, about 70 percent, is used for agricultural purposes while industrial use accounts for about 22 percent and the domestic and municipal use consumes about 8 percent. Water usage also varies per nation; for example, in the US the average daily per capita of fresh water usage is 151 gallons while in Ethiopia it is about only 3 gallons. The US is water rich and uses about 7 billion gallons of water daily for landscaping while Ethiopia is water stressed although it boarders got the Blue Nile.
Uses of fresh water
Fresh water is used for different purposes some of which include: in agricultural activities especially in irrigation, manufacturing of pharmaceuticals like the hormones, antibiotics, tranquilizers, painkillers, chemotherapy drugs and anti-seizure drugs, use of fresh water in industries is very common and this is expected to continue and at increased rates, home and municipal use of water, fresh water is also used as a source of energy for creation of hydro-electric power. (Caso, Frank and Wolf, A. pg.6-12)
Sources of fresh water
Fresh water can come from different sources on earth and these include;
1. Surface water - surface water is the rain water that has not yet soaked into the ground or onto the sea/lake. Sources are those from rivers, lakes or swamps. This water is replenished by precipitation and sometimes gets lost through discharge into oceans or through evaporation and seepage into the surface.
2. Groundwater is that water stored in spaces in some rocks of the earth's crust. Ground water is the largest source of fresh water on the planet
3. Fresh water from lakes and rivers. This is the rain water that has collected in fresh lakes/ seas and or flowing in streams and rivers.
4. Ice: much of the fresh water is preserved as ice water and although it is difficult to use this source as consumable, it is possible.
5. Rain: this is one of the important sources of fresh water. Rainwater is precipitation of the earth's atmosphere which has been evaporated. This rain water is then harvested especially the water used in rural homes. (Moreschi, Robert).
Importance of fresh water
We are all dependent on fresh water to survive no matter who we are or where we come from. We need this water in several ways like to stay healthy, grow our food, transportation, irrigation, electricity, and in industries. But it is amazing how we take this water for granted. Billions of fresh water is wasted through pollution and used inefficiently. It is also amazing that the per capita of fresh water is declining at an alarming rate all over the world. Statistics show that if the current consumption patterns continue, two thirds of people will live in water stressed conditions by the year 2025. An example is in India where the per capita average annual fresh water availability has reduced from 5,177 cubic meters to 1,869 cubic meters in a span of only 150 years, from 1869 to 2001. This is further estimated to reduce to 1,140 by the year 2050.
- 1.1 billion: number of people who lack access to save drinking water. This is approximately a sixth of the world's population and a further 2.4 billion lack safe sanitation.
- 6,000: number of children who die daily from water related diseases and with consuming unsafe and unhygienic water around the world.
- 2.2 million: number of people who die yearly from water related diseases and sanitation.
- 90 %: percentage of untreated water that is discharged in developing countries.
- 50%: percentage of loss of safe water for drinking that is lost through illegal hook-ups and wastes in developing countries.
- 50%: the percentage of the world's wetland that has been lost and 20% is the known water species that has been extinct (Fresh Water Resources).
Threats to world's fresh water supply
Many problems are associated to the supply of fresh water and these problems revolve around two issues; availability of fresh water and fitness of the freshwater to drink. Although with plenty of water, the earth's water has only 3 percent as fresh water supply. And of this 3 percent, 75 percent is locked up in polar ice caps while the rest can be collected in ground water sources with 0.5 percent on the surface of the earth in rivers, lakes, streams and the atmosphere. The availability of fresh water in the world is not always uniform as some areas have limited adequate supplies or access of freshwater. Some people have to travel long distances in search of freshwater from communal wells, oases and/or riverbeds. This happens usually due to seasonal delivery through precipitation, droughts also decrease the amount of freshwater supply (Sebastian, Eisla).
Lack of or enough of freshwater has drastic effects not only on the people but also the economy of countries. Example is like in Ethiopia which had staggering effects for an extended period without freshwater supply and the country went from a fertile and productive country to a dry area plagued by famine and diseases. Agricultural activities also impact on the amount of freshwater supply available for human use. Conflict with water use arise when people with different water interests clash and try to get the largest share of this scarce commodity as much as possible. This kind of conflict is also seen as in the US's southwest where access to the water in the Colorado River is under siege from different quarters. Here farmers, ranchers, recreationists, conservationists, homeowners, industries all compete for this precious scarce commodity (Sebastian, Eisla).
Currently, the use of freshwater supply is stretched and as the world's population increases, the demand for freshwater will only but increase. Estimations for freshwater demand is put at 1.7 trillion gallons a year for every 8 million people that are added to the earth's population. Another issue that impacts on fresh water supply is its fitness to drink. Many factors have a great impact on the suitability of freshwater's drinkability (Sebastian, Eisla).
Pollution is one such major issue that makes freshwater unfit for drinking. Pollution degrades many water sources' fitness to drinking. Raw sewage systems , trash dumping, sedimentation, chemical wastes from factories to water sources like rivers and lakes, and petroleum pollution impact severely on the fitness of the water source to be used as drinking water and even for agricultural use. Another factor that can impact on the use of freshwater is overuse of the water itself. This is because as the water level reduces, salinity of the water and its nutrients concentrate and makes it less fit for human consumption. An example is the Aral Sea's mineral content that has increased by a whopping 300 percent due to irrigation and making its water unfit for use (USGS Georgia Water Science Center).
When it comes to fresh water, cooperation is needed among not only nations but also people and states to protect this precious resource. Laws and treaties designed to protect water sources and resources should be encouraged. To preserve water, the following is to be adopted;
Conservation this is the best strategy to help counter the global water crisis. Water conservation ways can be seen from different perspectives. This can be seen from the efficient management of rain water through efficient storage and allocation, it can also be assessed from water supply and distribution with very minimal losses and trying to prevent wastage by all means. Improvements in the efficiency of water use especially in irrigation systems that often waste water (Caso, Frank and Wolf, A. T. Pg.16).
The earth has a population of about 6 billion people who uses about 30 percent of the world's total fresh water. Statistics show that the use this water may reach a high of 70 percent by the year 2025. Water scarcity is emerging as a major problem these days and this is coupled by the fact that fresh water is dwindling these days. This is basically caused by a fast increasing population especially in Africa and Asia which face acute water shortage (World Freshwater Resources).
Water reclamation projects
Due to the fact that most of the earth is covered by non-potable salt water, desalination can work to reclaim this precious commodity. This can be through reverse osmosis or through distillation (Caso, Frank and Wolf, A. T, pg.16-17).
We have discussed the importance of fresh water without which humans cannot survive but this precious commodity is in very small amounts compared to total amount of water available on earth. To worsen matters, about of quarter of this fresh water is locked in icecaps thus making fresh water available for use at a very small percent of about 0.07 percent from streams and lakes. Fresh water is literally used for all mans activities from agriculture, domestic use, industries, generate electricity and manufacture of drugs. Fresh water is under threat and therefore should be used carefully to avoid unnecessary loses but encourage conservation methods which have been discussed earlier.