Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 14 February 2010
Water is a ubiquitous chemical substance that is composed of hydrogen and oxygen and is vital for all known forms of life.
In typical usage, water refers only to its liquid form or state, but the substance also has a solid state, ice, and a gaseous state, water vapour or steam. Water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and is found mostly in oceans and other large water bodies, with 1.6% of water below ground in aquifers and 0.001% in the air as vapour, clouds (formed of solid and liquid water particles suspended in air), and precipitation.
Oceans hold 97% of surface water, glaciers and polar ice caps 2.4%, and other land surface water such as rivers, lakes and ponds 0.6%. A very small amount of the Earth’s water is contained within biological bodies and manufactured products.
Clean, fresh drinking water is essential to human and other life forms. Access to safe drinking water has improved steadily and substantially over the last decades in almost every part of the world. There is a clear correlation between access to safe water and GDP per capita. However, some observers have estimated that by 2025 more than half of the world population will be facing water-based vulnerability.
A recent report suggests that by 2030, in some developing regions of the world, water demand will exceed supply by 50%.Water plays an important role in the world economy, as it functions as a solvent for a wide variety of chemical substances and facilitates industrial cooling and transportation. Approximately 70% of freshwater is consumed by agriculture.
The most important use of water in agriculture is for irrigation, which is a key component to produce enough food. Irrigation takes up to 90% of water withdrawn in some developing countries and significant proportions in more economically developed countries (United States, 30% of freshwater usage is for irrigation).
Water fit for human consumption is called drinking water or potable water. Water that is not potable can be made potable by filtration or distillation (heating it until it becomes water vapour, and then capturing the vapour without any of the impurities it leaves behind), or by other methods (chemical or heat treatment that kills bacteria).
Sometimes the term safe water is applied to potable water of a lower quality threshold (i.e., it is used effectively for nutrition in humans that have weak access to water cleaning processes, and does more good than harm). Water that is not fit for drinking but is not harmful for humans when used for swimming or bathing is called by various names other than potable or drinking water, and is sometimes called safe water, or “safe for bathing”. Chlorine is a skin and mucous membrane irritant that is used to make water safe for bathing or drinking. Its use is highly technical and is usually monitored by government regulations (typically 1 part per million (ppm) for drinking water, and 1–2 ppm of chlorine not yet reacted with impurities for bathing water).
This natural resource is becoming scarcer in certain places, and its availability is a major social and economic concern. Currently, about a billion people around the world routinely drink unhealthy water. Most countries accepted the goal of halving by 2015 the number of people worldwide who do not have access to safe water and sanitation during the 2003 G8 Evian summit. Even if this difficult goal is met, it will still leave more than an estimated half a billion people without access to safe drinking water and over a billion without access to adequate sanitation. Poor water quality and bad sanitation are deadly; some five million deaths a year are caused by polluted drinking water. The World Health Organization estimates that safe water could prevent 1.4 million child deaths from diarrhoea each year. Water, however, is not a finite resource, but rather re-circulated as potable water in precipitation in quantities many degrees of magnitude higher than human consumption. Therefore, it is the relatively small quantity of water in reserve in the earth (about 1% of our drinking water supply, which is replenished in aquifers around every 1 to 10 years), that is a non-renewable resource, and it is, rather, the distribution of potable and irrigation water which is scarce, rather than the actual amount of it that exists on the earth. Water-poor countries use importation of goods as the primary method of importing water (to leave enough for local human consumption), since the manufacturing process uses around 10 to 100 times products’ masses in water.
In the developing world, 90% of all wastewater still goes untreated into local rivers and streams. Some 50 countries, with roughly a third of the world’s population, also suffer from medium or high water stress, and 17 of these extract more water annually than is recharged through their natural water cycles. The strain not only affects surface freshwater bodies like rivers and lakes, but it also degrades groundwater resources.