Freshwater Problems

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” It’s an old saying but is also prophetic. Although admittedly, you wouldn’t think so with just a quick glance at Earth.

Planet EarthThat’s because water, whether it is found in the oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and even glaciers, covers 70% of our planet. It’s no surprise that Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanographer, author, and host of the groundbreaking TV show The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau dubbed Earth “The Water Planet.”

The problem is that fresh water, the stuff we drink, bathe in, and with which we water our plants and irrigate our farms, is precious. Only 3% of the water found on Earth is fresh water and two-thirds of that is locked away in frozen glaciers or in some other way unavailable. That doesn’t leave much water for the 7.1 billion people on the planet to use.

In fact, the United Nations reports that water is scarce for almost 2.7 billion people around the world for at least one month of the year. And roughly 1.1 billion people worldwide have little access to fresh water at all. That leaves them vulnerable to cholera, typhoid and a host of other waterborne diseases.

Unfortunately it will only get worse if we don’t adopt better ways to use the precious water we have. The UN also reports at the current rate of water usage, almost two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. And it’s not just people who will be hurting.

Ecosystems will also suffer. Rivers, lakes, wetlands and even aquifers are drying up or have disappeared altogether. In some cases, those bodies of water have become too polluted to use.

Climate change is also affecting the water supply, by altering weather patterns that create water shortages and extreme droughts in some areas and severe floods in others. In addition, glaciers and snowpacks will shrink and even disappear, which will also affect the water supply.

In short, we live on a water-rich planet, but usable water is a scarce resource and every drop is precious. The sooner we all realize that, the better it will be for everyone.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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