More on Water
Water is the key ingredient to much of life here on Earth. We base measurements off of it, use it to generate power, cool things down with it, clean and dissolve with it, and even blast things with it.
"If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in water."
- Loren Eiseley
So let's break water down. I mean, let's really break it down.
Water has a simple molecular structure. It is composed of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. Each hydrogen atom is covalently bonded to the oxygen via a shared pair of electrons. Oxygen also has two unshared pairs of electrons. Water is a "polar" molecule, meaning that there is an uneven distribution of electron density. Many other unique properties of water are due to the hydrogen bonds, everything from the ability of ice to float, a high heat of vaporization, and strong surface tension, to the hydrophobic effect and the nearly universal solvent properties of water.
See more at the National Science Foundation
If you imagine it's not easy to equally distribute 0.007% of the Earth's water to 7 billion people, you wouldn't be wrong. There are almost a billion people without access to clean drinking water. While the number has been coming down in recent years, many places in the world have seen little improvement, including Sub-Saharan Africa.
"When the well's dry,
we know the worth of water."
- Benjamin Franklin
Access to water is by no means equitable, either. In North America, we use fresh water to flush our toilets and wash our cars while people in developing countries try to sustain themselves on a fraction of the water we use. Women and children spend time gathering water when they could be caring for themselves and their families through employment, community involvement, and education.
Sometimes being near water isn't enough. Oftentimes, the struggle is in finding clean water. In some places, the same waterway used to gather drinking water is the same waterway used for washing, garbage disposal, and even defecating. Lack of sanitation is a greater problem than even drinking water, as more people have mobile phones than a toilet. Poor sanitation is a direct cause of high death rates among children around the world.
Increased global population means increased stress on water supply. Finding innovative ways to both conserve and clean water will be key to improving and maintaining quality of life the world over.
See more at Water.org
The major piece of US legislation governing national and international water pollution is the 40 year-old Clean Water Act. To this day, it serves to regulate water pollutants and encourages citizen input in the protection of our nation's waterways. While the law has helped prevent environmental catastrophe, it has failed to stop water pollution, its stated goal.
Find out more about the Clean Water Act and how you can participate in Pace Academy's mock senate committee hearing during the Spring 2013 semester here: [Website Coming Soon!].
As places like China and India witness burgeoning environmental movements and globalization brings the world closer together, we realize pollution hasn't necessarily been decreasing, so much as exported and hidden. In developing countries, 70% of industrial wastes are returned to water untreated. Water-related illnesses are some of the leading causes of death globally, especially in places that lack access to clean water, where the same water is used for drinking and cooking as for sanitation.
Hot topics like fracking and news events like the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010 are pulling water pollution back to the forefront of the minds of Americans. For more information on some causes and effects of water pollution locally, as well as information on the effects of climate change on water, visit the Natural Resources Defense Council.
There is a direct of link between wealth (or lack thereof) and access to clean water. It is the world's poor that suffer the most due to poor infrastructure, environmental abuses, and social injustice, among other things. Nearly 66% of people who lack safe drinking water live on less than $2 a day, while 33% on less than $1 a day. Here in the US, we pay pennies for access to water (that is, unless we're buying bottled water).
According to Water.org, investment in safe drinking water and sanitation contributes to economic growth. For each $1 invested, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates returns of $3 - $34, depending on the region and technology. Microfinance projects have allowed for people to take initiative on improving water project and have a 98% success rate.
But the economics of water don't stop at a discuss on access. After all, if clean water was so easily attainable, there wouldn't be Bond villains trying to steal it. Water is a hot commodity. In 4 days, the United States uses more water than the entire world uses oil in one year. And unlike oil, we would have a pretty rough time finding alternatives for it in terms of sustaining life.
You may be familiar with efforts by the World Bank to encourage water privatization or UN programs battling the economic recession to attain goals of increased water access. International corporations are getting into the 'water business.' What does it mean when one group wants to pollute a waterway that the public has free access to? How much profit should companies earn from charging for water? What should water cost and who should pay?
The marketplace for water fosters innovative treatment technologies, funds new initiatives in water conservation, and perpetuates investment, ensuring a future of clean water. But the line between water as a 'right' and water as a 'commodity' is still a dangerous one, lined with all sorts of economic, political, and ethical questions. How will different interpretations of this affect the future of water?
See more about the costs of water access at the World Health Organization.
Judging the progress of water quality and access is not straightforward. Successful projects in developing communities are under threat of losing funding and lack of community involvement (which leads to a 50% failure rate of water projects). While regulation and preventative efforts can keep known toxins from being emitted into our waterways, new chemicals with effects not yet understood are being created regularly.
The most critical water problems of yesterday may not be the most threatening problems tomorrow. Floods and droughts remain difficult to overcome, and not just in developing countries, as seen in the severe 2012 droughts in the American Midwest. Water pollution from one area has many routes by which to enter another.
While water-saving appliances are becoming more popular at home, we still cannot seem to fully understand the true worth of water. Global population increases are putting more pressure on available resources and groundwater supplies face unknown stress.
"The consequences for humanity are grave. Water scarcity threatens economic and social gains and is a potent fuel for wars and conflict."
- Ban Ki-Moon
However, there are reasons to be hopeful, even in this shrinking world. All over, organizations like Engineers without Borders are bringing life-saving technologies directly to those in need. The UN has made water a priority, understanding its role in the battle against poverty. Microfinance projects are taking off in small communities. Innovations in irrigation are producing more food with a fraction of the water. In the US, people are lobbying everyday for the protection of our waterways.
The World Health Organization's 2012 report recounts the recent progress and remaining challenges of water quality and access.