It is now time to think past our kitchen sinks and to consider the nature of the water cycle and how freshwater circulates around the whole world before it reaches us.
During the latter part of the 20th century and even in the beginning of this one it was understood that it was the functioning of the global water cycle, which underpinned climatic conditions. In 1999 the National Research Council on Hydrologic Science emphasized the central role of water in the Earth’s climate-system. Nowadays this vital connection is greatly under emphasised, leading to ineffective actions in dealing with global water shortages and human induced climatic changes.
“Water is at the heart of both the causes and the effects of climate change (NRC, 1998)” Download: USGCRP. A plan for a new science initiative on the global water cycle, chapter 1, 2001.pdf
In many places in the world it is hard for people to understand the implications of a freshwater crisis. In the UK, and many places in Europe, America and Canada people often feel that there is too much rain and hence it is hard to conceive of water shortages. However this is not the case everywhere on Earth and it won’t even continue to be in water rich areas, unless greater effort is made to safeguard the global water cycle.
“The magnitude of the global freshwater crisis and the risks associated with it, have been greatly underestimated. One billion people on earth are without reliable supplies of water and more than 2 billion people lack basic sanitation.” Download: U.N Water Security.pdf
The water cycle is a global cycle and if this cycle ceases to function the majority of life on Earth will become extinct.
This is an immensely important issue and the well being of all of our families will be determined upon whether we deal with this crisis or not. Since the 1990’s world governments have chosen not to address this situation but have instead preferred to leave it to private companies to deal with. Unfortunately these companies often have their own business agendas that complicate matters. However now the problems are too great to ignore and fragmented approaches to the management of freshwater urgently needs to be revised and to include safeguarding the hydrological cycle.
“The hydrological cycle is the life-blood of many of the organisms that inhabit the Earth. At the same time it is, in many ways, the engine of the climate system. Human activities are now influencing the cycle at the global scale.” Download: W. Steffen et al., Global Change and the Earth System, A Planet Under Pressure, 2004.pdf
Therefore we need to think past our taps and consider how fresh water reaches us. We also need to gain an understanding of the nature of the global water cycle and the part it plays in the functioning of all our weather and the overall global climate. At present it is in serious danger of breakdown. However it can still be repaired. Nature has provided a remedy. It only needs to be applied as fast as possible.
“The water cycle, however, involves much more than the fluxes of water itself. The water cycle sustains life and through latent heat exchange and radiative effects plays a central role in the planet’s energetics.” View: Directorate for Geosciences Program, Solicitation NSF-02-101, 2004.pdf
Freshwater is carried around the Earth, above and below the surface, via a cycle known as the water cycle or hydrological cycle. It is utterly dependent upon healthily functioning ecosystems such as mountains, glaciers, mountain forests, rain forests and wetlands. Mountains on the other side of the world help to regulate the freshwater supply and climate wherever we are. In this respect Himalayan mountain regions affect the fresh water supply and weather of the whole world. Provided that there is an adequate quantity of these necessary ecosystems, freshwater is a fast renewable unlike finite resources such as coal, oil and gas. One of the marvels of the water cycle that it has the ability of cycling water around the world very quickly.
These crucial ecosystems have been massively depleted worldwide.
We need to consider what will happen if this cycle ceases to function, what it is dependent upon and co-operate together on a global level to preserve the natural ecosystems, which sustain it.
“Earth’s vegetation plays a pivotal role in the global water balance.” Download: Dieter Gerten et al. Terrestrial vegetation and water balance—hydrological evaluation of a dynamic global vegetation model, 2004.pdf
Regardless of where in the world we live, our stability is based on the state of ecosystems, which are both regional and global. This is why worldwide social and ecological co-operation is so essential. There is an urgent need nowadays for humanity to work together to protect the ecosystems which maintain the global water cycle, while we still have time to do so. On 22/3/13 the UN Secretary General stated:
“One in three people already lives in a country with moderate to high water stress, and by 2030 nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent.” View: UN Secretary-General’s Message for World Water Day 2013
Why are we having major water problems on a planet with so much water?
When one hears about the vast numbers of people around the world living with water crisis and inadequate access to safe drinking water, one may find it hard to understand, considering that there is so much water on the surface of Earth. Although water covers more than three quarters of the Earth’s surface, only approximately 3% of it is fresh water. Of this, approximately 2% is found in ice caps and glaciers and 1% in underground sources, rivers, streams, lakes and the atmosphere. This unique combination of the three phases of water works as an interrelated, dynamic, regenerative system and provides sufficient freshwater for all, so long as the forests and vegetation, which are a vital part of its functioning are not destroyed.
“There is abundant evidence that changes in land cover and land use can have significant, even drastic impacts on the water cycle at local and regional scales.” Download: WUSGCRP Report, A plan for a new science initiative on the global water cycle, 2001.pdf
The global water cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth.
Water is constantly changing between being a liquid, vapour or ice. Although the balance of water on Earth remains fairly constant over time,water molecules are constantly moving, in and out of the atmosphere. The proper functioning of this cycle is dependent upon and regulated by a combination of ecosystems that are fundamental for maintaining it.
Even with the immense body of knowledge, which is widely available, these ecosystems are still being destroyed on a vast scale. According to the FAO during the 1990s, 16 millions hectares of forest were cleared annually and between the years 2000 and 2010 around 130 million hectares of the Earth’s forests were lost.
““The current pace and scale of human development is altering the hydrological cycle in ways that has eroded the capacity of ecosystems to provide life-sustaining functions and services. Rivers that for centuries ran from source to sea now run dry in many years due to damming, diversion and depletion of glaciers and water resources.” Download: U.N Water Security.pdf
As a consiquence of such vast distruction of biodiversity nearly all of life on Earth is presently being subjected to and threatened by the same looming freshwater crisis. This is regardless of status or species. It’s just a matter of time and there is not so much time left in which to deal with this emergency. This is a far greater threat to life and the very foundations of human existence than any economic crisis.
“The centrality of water in our lives—social, economic, political and spiritual—cannot be overestimated. Nearly every decision we make is directly linked to the use and availability of water. Water quality reveals everything, right or wrong, that we do. Its abundance is an indicator of social development. Its lack is an indicator of poverty” “Unlike the energy crisis, the water crisis is life-threatening. Unlike oil, fresh water has no viable substitute. Its depletion in quantity and quality has profound social, economic and ecological effects. Water is a particularly vital resource. Without water, ecosystems are destroyed. Economic activities halt. People die.” Download: UNEP, Water policy and strategy, 2000.pdf
Nowadays it is clear that most of the crises, which threaten humanity and other species, are not isolated to specific countries or regions.
They are effected by and affect the environmental conditions in other regions and countries. That is why, preserving and maintaining freshwater and vital ecosystems, needs to be done through global cooperation and collaboration. Issues such as the environment, water security, food security, economics, energy and social care are not separate. They need to be addressed in a manner that recognizes the inherent connection between them.
“These are not separate crises: an environmental crisis, a development crisis, an energy crisis. They are all one.” Download: Our-Common-Future-Brundtland-Report-1987.pdf
Unless adequate solutions are applied, poverty, hunger, inequality and conflict will inevitably increase.
This will not only happen in developing countries, it will also happen in places, which are presently enjoying relative stability. This will not only happen to poor people, although they will experience the problems more acutely initially. This is a worldwide situation and it needs concerted global action.
Recognising the vital importance of this for global water security and all that it entails, world governments have recently committed themselves to action.
In Goal 6 under Target 6.6 ‘Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ world governments made the following commitment:
“By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes” Download: UN, Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,2015.pdf
This is a matter of survival so it would be in our best long-term interest to make this issue a top priority at national and international levels and undertake the work that needs to be done.
We have recently created a document offering guidelines for procedure. It is highly illustrated and looks into some very pertinent subjects concerning achieving sustainable development.