Water is Life
Water is the foundational requirement for hydration, temperature control, sanitation, and agriculture. It’s also vital to the preservation of all of the world’s ecosystems, wildlife, and natural geological, biological, and earth cycles and processes.
Water’s simple chemical composition belies its complex, and extremely unique, properties. It is the only natural substance that exists in all three states on Earth. And while, depending on where you are, you can experience Earth’s natural expressions of all three of its states in one day, water has a high heat index, making it a vital temperature regulator for the life around and in it.
Water has high surface tension, which explains the beautiful beading we see on plants after a recent rain, as well as the capillary action that allows moisture and nutrients to be transported within plants. As the universal solvent, water also carries chemicals, minerals, and nutrients just about everywhere it goes; the life that’s dependent on both our blood and the flowing of rivers exists due to water.
Also, liquid water is dense—hence the anomaly of solid water floating on its liquid form, and also the ability of sound to travel long distances in this medium (which is a fact that many marine animals, including southern resident orcas, depend on for survival).
No Water, No Life
Although just over 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, only 3% of this water is freshwater. And, alarmingly, with a global population that will be close to 10 billion by 2050, it is believed that the approximately two billion people living without safe drinking water today will double to four billion in the next thirty years.
The statistics many be hard to comprehend, but the reality is not. While the environmental challenges associated with both water issues and climate change often go hand-in-hand (or are, indeed, one and the same), the effects of global water issues are, for the most part, readily evident today. They cannot be negated, misrepresented, or denied.
Sanitation and Hygiene: Three billion people use unsanitary, or at least sub-par, water. There’s no denying the variety and multitude of sources and consequences of polluted water. Just one effect is that over 800 children’s lives are lost every day due to diseases that are preventable with the provision of clean water.
Scarcity: Desertification, Degradation, and Deforestation. Humans seem to have a knack for destruction—75% of the Earth’s land today and, by 2050, 90% will likely be affected by degradation due to unsustainable agricultural and other land uses. An astounding area of about half the size of the European Union is degraded annually. Deforestation, which generally occurs in tandem with land degradation—and both affects and is affected by climate change—is altering global water cycles and contributing to desertification.
Flooding: At the other extreme, just as too little water (and lack of sanitary water sources) can threaten human life and the health of the environment, too much water can be just as dangerous. Increased frequency and severity of storms, rising sea water levels, the loss of natural coastal barriers, and land subsidence are among the reasons why many cities across the world are experiencing the equivalent of what may have been considered a 50-year-flood every few years.
Moving Beyond Water Wars
As a base necessity, water and its challenges are becoming increasingly politically, economically, legally, and socially divisive. From the 99-year-deal between Malaysia and Singapore, to the River Uruguay pulp mills dispute between Uruguay and Argentina, to the Ramsar Convention and other multilateral water-related agreements, the need for enhanced cooperation on all levels is evident.
Water pollution, and a myriad of forms of harm to global waters—including ocean acidification, plastic pollution, and noise pollution—don’t always receive the attention they deserve when they don’t directly affect humans. But any damage we cause to the world’s waterways and water sources deserves equal collaborative treatment.
Respect for Nature: We tend to have an anthropocentric view when it comes to observing and analyzing environmental challenges, but there’s also the Golden Rule perspective that invites us to be better versions of ourselves and take care of what’s around us because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t need to wait and see if there will be negative consequences to our wasteful, polluting, and otherwise destructive habits and actions. A healthy global water cycle is worth preserving because of its own intrinsic value, in addition to all of the benefits—and necessities for life and health—that we rely on.
World Water Day 2019: Leaving no one behind
On this World Water Day, the theme is ‘Leaving no one behind.’ I encourage you to learn about the gift, and human right, of having access to clean, reliable water. And think about the changes you can make today, and for all days, to reduce or eliminate the threats to human and environmental life and health that ensue when there is too much water, or not enough clean, fresh, accessible sources of water available for all of us.