Developing a centuries-old idea to provide clean drinking water
BEFORE you read this, I suggest you help yourself to a glass of water. That is, if you can. Today, 633m people won’t have access to a safely-managed source of drinking water1, and water stress exists in every continent.
You’d be forgiven for not realising the extent of the global drinking water crisis – I had little idea until my job forced me to pay attention. Growing up in the Netherlands, charities and news reports had kept me fairly well informed about regions suffering persistent droughts, but I hadn’t spent much time thinking about the connections to the bigger picture. I was used to abundant rainfall (as any Dutch person will tell you), the tap water tasted fine, and I could always pick up bottled water when out and about. Today, however, I’m acutely aware of the real, and often hidden, challenges of accessing quality drinking water.
Despite living on a ‘blue planet’, 98% of our water is found in oceans and seas, and over 67% of the freshwater available is trapped in ice shelves and glaciers2. Historically, we have been supporting humanity on less than 1% of available freshwater sources, and now, a confluence of factors including population growth, over-extraction, pollution, and climate change is rapidly diminishing them.
Despite living on a ‘blue planet’, 98% of our water is found in oceans and seas, and over 67% of the freshwater available is trapped in ice shelves and glaciers
This has manifested itself in some more high-profile cases - you are likely to have come across the ongoing crisis in Cape Town, where years of drought and underinvestment have limited residents to a strict daily water allowance. The world is watching their race against time to delay “Day Zero” when the city’s main water sources will be completely turned off. However, there are so many examples of water stress that remain under the radar.