Apparently it was the best Earth Hour ever. With so many countries in lockdown, there was little traffic, little air travel and less industry so that emissions went down, even Los Angeles had clear skies for the first time since the 1950s and the canals of a tourist -free Venice were clean. Unfortunately, World Water Day on March 22nd became another casualty of Coronavirus with many events being cancelled or deferred, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it some thought. It’s hard to tell people to wash their hands when three billion people around the world don’t have the facilities at home to do that, let alone bathe, cook, feed livestock or grow vegetables, and not counting water needed for industry, mining or power generation.
This year’s theme is water and climate change. Eighteen out 22 countries already fall below the water poverty line and experience water stress for at least one month of the year. While we might immediately think of the Middle East, India, Africa and Central Asia, it may come as a surprise to learn that European countries such as Belgium are included in this category with places such as France, Greece, Spain and Portugal, not far behind. Malta and Cypress already rely on recycled water for 90% of their water needs and many regions including the USA, Brazil, Chile, Russia and Australia have periods of water stress which don't show up in annual rainfall averages because they are disguised by periods of high rainfall.
As well as quantity, the quality of much of the world’s water is also deteriorating with around one third of the world’s rivers, particularly in Asia, Africa and South America being severely contaminated, along with many of the world's ground water sources. Intermittent and more severe flooding makes matters worse by flushing pollutants, sewerage, industrial waste and agricultural run -off into waterways. Over -extraction from aquifers also results in seawater intrusion, making them unsuitable for human consumption or agriculture.
There are three major, not mutually exclusive ways forward. The first is to conserve the fresh water resources at our disposal. The second is to rethink how we presently use water in agriculture and industry and the third is to make better use of what we now call waste water. I will discuss each of these briefly on the ensuing pages.
[I'm trying to keep these posts short so they’ll be easier to read on mobile phones]