Clean drinking water is fundamental to every human life. On average, each person requires between 20 and 50 liters of water every day for drinking, personal hygiene, and cooking. Otherwise, quality of life can be compromised. But, what if, one day, the water that comes out of your faucet is dirty?

Unclean water is dangerous to both humans and the environment. It leads to numerous health issues - and even death. Reports have it that over a million die year after year from cholera and diarrhea. Aside from these aforementioned diseases, people who drink unclean water can acquire hepatitis and schistosomiasis. Or, they could be infected with hookworm and other parasites. Unclean water is also devastating to the environment.

The Earth’s freshwater sources

Literally, the earth is a world of water. But then, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. And out of this 2.5 percent, only 1 percent can be easily accessed. Much of the freshwater is trapped in glaciers and snowfields. Moreover, of the freshwater that we have, about 85% of it is used for agriculture. And the remaining is shared by the industrial, commercial, and domestic sectors.

We usually get our water from lakes, rivers, streams or freshwater wetlands. Unfortunately, about half of the world’s important rivers are now significantly depleted or polluted. Thus, making access to safe drinking scarce. For some people, though, such a situation is still an abstract concept. But many communities across the globe are already experiencing the reality of water scarcity.

Why is there freshwater scarcity?

Water scarcity can be blamed on the various environmental, economic, political, and social issues. But we can generally point to mismanagement of water resources, uneven distribution, climate change, and overpopulation among the major culprits.

● Uneven distribution of water supply. It’s a fact that freshwater supplies are unevenly distributed between countries. Even with a particular country, water is not evenly apportioned.

● Depleted sources. The rapid growth in population has taken its toll on our surface water stores. As the human population grows, the greater is our need for water. In fact, we have been extracting groundwater way beyond the ability of the source to replenish. A multidisciplinary research revealed that 13 of planet Earth’s 37 biggest aquifers have been depleted while receiving minimal or no recharge at all. Climate change also intensifies the depletion of our fresh water sources.

● Pollution. Along with the growing population comes pollution. Pollution is, sadly, a human problem. Since the Industrial Revolution, we are thrust into living in a toxic environment. Acidification, heavy metals, and persistent organic pollutants which are something we never heard of before industrialization has become the “new normal”. Even our groundwater is at risk of getting contaminated. The persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as pesticides and weed killers used in agriculture can descend into the groundwater. Pollution of water has, indeed, become a massive problem in both developed nations and less economically developed countries (LEDCs).

● Climate change. Climate change results in more frequent droughts, heat waves, and erratic rainfall patterns. As the temperature continues to rise, evaporation increases. This oftentimes leads to drought, or even very dry spell when El Niño hits. A rise in temperature also causes the glacial ice to melt at an unprecedented rate. We know that glaciers are a significant source of freshwater. Once these glaciers liquefy, they can no longer be restored.

How can we ensure long-term water security?

Despite the critical condition of our drinking water now, all is not yet lost. We can still help reduce its depletion. By managing our water resources in a sustainable manner, we can ensure a continuous supply of safe drinking water. Here are some measures that you and I can do.

Promote sustainable sanitation. We know that poor sanitation causes a lot of diseases, like diarrhea epidemics. To promote sustainable sanitation, we can at least,

● Create more septage and sewerage management projects. These projects should incorporate a climate resilient and sustainable sanitation facilities, services, and infrastructure.

● Establish an environment for efficient and effective wastewater management.

Find ways for efficient use of water in agriculture. Each agricultural landscape has its own specific characteristics. It’s unfair, then, to make a general and sweeping suggestion on what to do to reduce water use. However, you can devise appropriate and practical ways to keep harmful run-off of the waters in your area. Coordinate with the local farmers, experts on agriculture, and other stakeholders in your region.

Protect the grasslands. Grasslands are nature’s important water filters. We must protect them and prohibit deforestation and destruction of these areas. Those that have already been lost (whether intentional or not), or damaged, we must restore.

Conserve water at home. The best place to start ensuring safe drinking water is at home. Find practical ways in which you can save domestic water.

We cannot afford to leave everything to nature. While it’s true that water is a renewable resource, it may not be able to withstand the pressure that we put on it. Let’s do our share in ensuring a long-term security of clean drinking water - for us and for the next generation.