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Heart & Home

Not a Drop to Drink: How a Shortage of Water Became a Worldwide Concern

We’ve all dealt with shortages before. There have been gas shortages that made driving a luxury rather than a necessity. There have been shortages of good shows to watch on TV, especially during the summer (at which point we remember why we love Netflix). And the recession could even be categorized as a shortage of jobs, as you scour the "Help Wanted" section. As boring or stressful or just plain inconvenient as this sudden lack has been to our lives, we’ve always managed to soldier through one way or the other. But what happens when the item lost is something we can’t replace — one that’s necessary for our very survival?

Worldwide supplies of water have been steadily decreasing for some time now, due in no small part to climate change. As the average temperature rises, the water available to people in various regions has dropped. As if being hot and thirsty wasn’t bad enough, many of the areas on the brink of a water crisis are politically sensitive, and this shortage could bring things to the boiling point. As rivers and natural wells dry up due to the increase in droughts, countries will do whatever they need to have access to water — including engaging in war.

“Iraq’s water crisis has put us in a precarious position and could even lead us into a war with one of our neighbors,” Iraqi parliament member Tayseer al Mashadani told the Middle-East-based English Language newspaper The National back in 2009. “The new war on Iraq is a war of water. There have been agreements with our neighbors about sharing water resources but they have not stuck to them.” These sort of conflicts are only exacerbated by countries that share the same water supplies in the years since. Although for centuries they may have shared resources without issue, things have changed — and both sides are willing to fight for the contested land.

In Jordan, where Syrian refugees have fled to escape the civil war in their own country, water was already a commodity. But the addition of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians has only exacerbated this problem, which officials are helpless to solve. And the water shortage inevitably leads to other worldwide calamities: food shortages that could result in starvation, and major power outages for those relying on hydroelectricity. But the greatest loss is the tens of thousands who die every year due to a lack of clean drinking water and proper sanitation.

According to reports, nearly 800 million people worldwide lack access to clean, safe water. And those numbers are only expected to get worse: By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population would be subsisting on barely 264 gallons of water a year (to put that into perspective, the average American uses 176 gallons of water a day).

As awareness of this enormous crisis grows, people are stepping forward to help. In 2010 alone, the US government donated over $900 million to global water aid. Scientists are seeking out ways to purify the water we already have, while countries that have not yet started squabbling over the remaining water are working together to help give people and countries access to this vital natural resource.

But despite the best efforts, the water shortage shows no sign of ending. So savor that refreshing glass of water; unless things change, it may have to last you for a long time.

[Pic via Flickr - Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development]

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