Water is the universal fuel with no viable or foreseeable alternative. Walking miles for water, incredible stories in search of water, drinking poor quality water, and falling prey to illness are far more real than we think they are! It is not uncommon to see lives changed and generations altered in this quest for a basic necessity.
Although water covers 75 per cent of the world’s surface, 97.5 per cent of the earth’s water is salty; of the remaining 2.5 per cent, much of it is locked away as groundwater or in glaciers. Water is a finite resource: there is some 1,400 million cubic kilometres of it on earth and circulating through the hydrological cycle. Only one-hundredth of one per cent of the world’s water is readily available for human use.
Therefore supply is simply not enough to meet the needs of over seven billion thirsty people. Projections of population increase by another 27% to 8.9 billion by 2050, increased prosperity, large-scale urbanisation, and environmental stress with climate variability in the forefront all make the case compelling and alarming. At the current rate, there will certainly not be enough water for the entire world to consume.
In addition, the water, energy and food systems are tightly linked. While water is needed to extract energy and generate power, energy is needed to treat and transport water and both water and energy are needed to grow food. In the coming decades, these vital resources will come under greater pressure. Governments, international organisations and industries are working closely to help address this complex relationship known as the energy-water-food nexus.
2013 is the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, with the premise of advertising, promoting and endorsing the value of water cooperation. As water is an all-encompassing resource, cooperation between parties is imperative, as a delicate balance must be found between supply for various groups in an equitable and naturally beneficial manner. There are four primary messages the UNIYWC has to share, which highlights the merits of water cooperation;
— Water cooperation builds peace
— Water cooperation is key to socioeconomic development, poverty eradication, social equity, gender equality and environmental sustainability
— Water cooperation creates tangible economic benefits
— Water cooperation is crucial to preserve water resources, ensure their sustainability and protect the environment
I spent some of my school holidays working for the Public Utilities Board of Singapore, which assumes its responsibility as the National Water Agency. I was exposed to the methods the Singapore government deploys to manage quality water supply. In a nation with a total of 710 sq. km area of land, it still manages to supply water to its five million residents.
It is very interesting to note that whilst PUB aims at boosting supply, it is also keen on limiting demand. Numerous conservation methods and techniques have been published and advertised with varying degrees of success. Steps and efforts like these can truly make a big difference, and allow more people to have access to sanitation and clean drinking water that will save numerous lives. Tasks such as having shorter showers, turning off taps whilst brushing or shaving, running only one load in the washing machine can save nearly 40 litres per household daily. My goal is to spread these messages, as I believe that we can make a difference with simple steps that are too far-reaching to be ignored.
In collaboration with the U.N. efforts, let’s make the remainder of 2013 a fruitful year for water conservation. The impact of our simple, yet thoughtful actions is for all of us to see, and the effect it will have on those who are, unfortunately, not as privileged as us will be tremendous. Honestly, it is the least we can do. After all, a litre saved, is a litre earned.
(The writer is a Grade 12 student, passionate about water, and Model United Nations delegate for the 4th year.)