Unavailability is not the sole cause of water stress

by Bakorlang Myrthong

Water is a natural necessity for life, so it comes as little surprise that access to safe and clean drinking water was declared a basic human right by the United Nations General Assembly, 2010. Yet a staggering 2 billion people in the world are still living under high water stress conditions.[1]

The underlying reasons behind high water stress is most often pointed towards the primary and secondary effects of climate change. For example, increasing frequencies of floods, droughts, disturbed low precipitation patterns, landlocked regions, heightened pollution levels, the ever-growing human population and the list goes on. While these cannot be denied, the ‘global’ nature of climate change raises an important question. Why is water stress considerably higher in some parts of the world and not so much in others? Let’s consider and compare a few cities across the globe to get an insight into what is the cause of this difference in water stress.

Starting closer to home, the conditions of two major cities in India are worth mentioning. New Delhi is situated near river Yamuna and yet it suffers from water stress. Polluted surface water bodies and construction near reservoirs are some of the underlying reasons behind people turning to groundwater. NITI Aayog reported an alarming fact in 2018 that New Delhi is likely to run out of ground water by 2020, over extraction being the primary cause.[2]   Chennai has already endured an unforgettable water crisis, which is referred as “Zero Day” on 19, June 2019 when all their four reservoirs dried up.[3]  Cape Town, situated near the meeting point between the Indian ocean and Atlantic oceans, suffers from a water crisis since 2017 due to a three years continuous drought.[4]  The list goes on and this has put a question to many, who will be next.

Beersheba, a city in Israel located in the Negev desert, yet manages to not let its water taps run dry. There are countries that are not facing a water crisis at present but have prioritised taking measures to prevent one from happening. Melbourne in Australia sets an example of such preparedness. Since the city is situated in an earthquake zone, it has focused on building infrastructure for water conservation so that there is still guaranteed water access even in times of a possible crisis.[5]  Similarly, Masdar city in UAE is a part of the Arabian Desert and interestingly, it is called the ‘green city’ in the desert. It gets its name owing to 80% of its water being recycled and its dependence on renewable sources for its energy.[6]

The fact that some regions are under high water stress and others are not, points us to the direction of reasons beyond climate change that might make this significant difference. Could water management be the main reason for the difference? It seems so because based on the above examples, water stress is often higher in regions where focus on water management practices is poorer. The Integrated Water Resource Management, a framework under UN Water, has recently reported that water management does indeed play a significant role in the fight against water stress.[7]

 

[1] UNWWDR, 2019

[2] NITI Aayog water index report, 2018

[3] WRI 2019

[4] WEF 2019

[5] Water for a future thriving, melbounewater.com, 2018

[6] Gulf news 2017

[7] IWRM report 2018

“2 billion people in the world are still living under high water stressed conditions” – UN World Water Report, 2019