Humanity’s Growing Impact on the World’s Freshwater


Of all the natural resources, water is the most important. It is fundamental to the vital processes in humankind. As the world population increase in multifold, demand for water does the same. There are so much to learn about the world yet we fail to focus on the key elements that keep life for everyone on Earth. Water that could feed the whole world is scarce.


How Much Water It Cost In the Industries

Water capital in the industries is so much in a single production. Take a look. On average, it takes 713 gallons (2,700 L) of water to make a cotton shirt and  2,600 gallons (9,800 L) to make a pair of jeans. Note that cotton crops grown in the field need way more than what these factories could consume to make shirts or jeans. Other than jeans, you like to wear a footwear that consumes more than 4,000 gallons (15,000 L) of water, for instance, a leather loafer. Take note also that it takes so much water to grow a grain to feed a cow of which its skin becomes shoes.

The figures seem less significant than if you would imagine of the world’s ocean or water bodies. These figures seem less important until you’d experience water crisis. Water crisis happens when there’s prolonged water line interruption due to scarcity, leakage or contamination. We need water to satisfy your throat, food, electric power plans, cars, computers, and all those leather loafers and jeans.


How Much Water Footprint It Leaves

In a study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers in the University of Twente in the Netherland estimated in detail the scale and pattern of humanity’s water consumption.

Scale and Pattern Of Human Water Consumption

Doing this requires patience and determination. Using a high level of spatial resolution, the researchers tabulated all the water from the rainfall and irrigation that are consumed in making goods and services for the global population.

To gain a more significant data, they added in the volume of water necessary to equate the pollution incurred along with the production. They measured an annual average global footprint for years 1995-2005. It’s the most updated ten-year period for the necessary data available.

The result is a substantial figure- 9, 087 billion cubic meters (2,400 trillion gallons) per year. That is an overwhelming volume that is equivalent to the annual flow of the hundred Colorado Rivers.

Agricultural Water Footprint

Agriculture contributes as large as 92% of the global water footprint. This figure added with the percentage of water we allocate for livestock, that is a third of global grain harvest. Livestock and other animal products contribute as much water footprint. For example, the average beef takes 634 gallons (2,400 L) of water to make.

Meat Diet Water Footprint

Heavy meat diets contribute twice as much water footprint. This explains why the USA’s average water footprint is twice bigger than the global average because Americans eat 4.5 times more meat than the global average. One of the fascinating findings of the researchers is that a fifth of humanity’s water footprint travels across nation borders. This water is also known as “virtual waters”.

This water is embedded in products that are traded between countries. The ability to externalize water in scarce nations like Israel, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt is by importing wheat and other thirsty grains. This allows them to secure their scarce water for industrial production and other higher-value uses.

On Virtual Water

Surprisingly, some water-scarce nations still expert a great deal of virtual water to other countries. The Central Asian nations of the Aral Sea Basin export 96% of the cotton they produce. This is according to the US Department of Agricultural Statistics. Large-scale cotton production in this region caused the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake, to lose 80% of its water over the last 50 years. Much of the lake bed became a salty wasteland.

The United States has the world’s biggest exporter of virtual water due to its vast areas of highly productive rainfed cropland. They send millions of tons of grains to countries around the world. The largest virtual water imports come from Yangtze basin in China which produce a wide variety of goods for the US market.


How to Reduce Water Footprint

A growing population can still do something in order to live with sufficient water supply and healthy freshwater bodies. The solution that can really make a big impact is by altering diet and buying habits. This lessens water use and water footprints easily.

Corporations are becoming perceptive and mindful of their actions towards water use because they need it as a raw material in their productions. For instance, Unilever has helped tea farmers in Tanzania to use drip irrigation so its Lipton tea bags have a lower water footprint.

A retailer of outdoor apparel called Patagonia has leaped way up than others. They started an advertisement such as “DON’T BUY THIS JACKET.” Its Common Threads Initiative motivate companies and consumers in eco-friendly practices such as reducing, repairing, reusing, recycling and reimagining our world. This is all rooted to help in motivating water stewardship.

More organizations offer practical ways to shrink the size of our water footprints such as the Alliance for Water Efficiency and Meatless Mondays. It is in humanity’s hands-on making an impact to the Earth’s precious waters.


How Population Affects Future Water Sources

The impacts of population on the quantitative needs of a particular area are related to population density, which is how the population is distributed in that area and the rate of population growth. Population density affects so much of our economy, environment, natural resources, energy requirements, housings, food supply and etc. all these factors and its changes directly affect the sources and availability of our water.

Plainly said, the population is correlated with public water supply as high as 56% is distributed for domestic purposes. The US Geographical Survey reported an average of 179 gallons per capita per day (gpcd) in US in 1995 alone while 101 gpcd for domestic water.

US population in 2000 was 275.6 million. Projections of Population Research Bureau predicted the US population to be 375.8 million by 2025 and 403.7 million by 2050. The bureau also showed that the doubling time from 2000 for the population of US is at its current rate of growth which is about 120 years. This is 51 years for the world and for less developed countries like China in about 36 years. The figures matter to note that 81% of the world’s current population resides in less developed countries.


How Much Would Be the Future Population Levels

In the year 2000, the world’s population is 6 billion. It is expected to rise up to 10 billion within the century. Population Reference Bureau said that by 2025, there will be 7.8 billion people in the world. It will reach 9 billion 25 years later.

Less developed countries are perceived to be raging in population growth. More than 90% would take place in this underdeveloped countries. Due to overpopulation, water source is scarce yet highly demanded. If these predictions should be true, there would be water shortages in the next 50 years.

In year 1995, the 1,280 gpcd for all water uses in US was multiplied by the bureau’s estimate of population in 2025. It is enough estimate of water use in that year that would be about 508 billion gallons per day. Although it’s not certain when it comes to population forecast, technological changes and conservation practices could likely reduce the overall per capita water use in future significant increases.

In arid areas in US, large increases in water use may not be possible or sustainable unless water is imported brackish or saline waters are desalinated.


How Population Affects Future Water Quality

The population has a direct impact both on the water sources and the quality of the water resources. People change the properties of water as they use it in many ways. Water that has been used for several purposes area carried away to water resources become integrated with various chemicals.

Water used in household for drinking, cooking and bathing carry away chemicals into the sewage. Drainage from water applied in agricultural irrigation also brings away chemicals that have been applied to crops to enhance their growth and control weeds and pests. Industries introduce chemicals needed for the manufacture of their products.

The aftermath is posing threats to the environment and public health. Getting rid of these water pollutants is unimaginably difficult. If this is the case, the source is also at risk. The public, the government, the industries and a variety of organizations play a role in resolving this problem.


How to Reduce Population Impacts

Modifying the local rate of population increase can alter the impacts of future populations on the amount and quality of water resources. This can be done by reducing the per capita use of water.

This strategy has been used in US. For example, per capita use decreased from 184 gpcd in 1990 to 179 gpcd in 1995 even though the nation’s population increased by 7 percent during that period.

Generally, water-stress is more common in developing nations than in developed and industrialized countries. Between 2000 and 2050, most all of the world’s population growth is projected to take place in developing nations. A reduction of population growth rate in these nations could improve the likelihood of achieving sustainability for their water supplies.


About the Author jmoran

Jennifer Moran is the author and the social media manager at The Berkey. She has been working and passionate about writing for over four years. When she isn’t glued to a laptop screen, she spends time playing tennis, practicing yoga, and trying very hard not to sleep in the meditation. You can reach her at jennifer (at) the berkey (dot) com.

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