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Engineering LibreTexts

8.5: Water Scarcity and Storage

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  • Water has been identified as one of the major environmental crisis facing the world today. More than one billion people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. The demand for water has grown at a very fast pace in response to the rate of global population growth. Figures \(\PageIndex{1}\), and \(\PageIndex{2}\) illustrate this change in water use over time. It is predicted that over the next two decades, the average supply of water per person will drop by a third.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Trends in fresh and saline water withdrawals in response to population growth (A) surface water withdrawals (B) Groundwater withdrawal trends:
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    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Both groundwater and surface water withdrawals had increased over time until 1980 when the withdrawals peaked and stabilized.

    Water Scarcity and Availability

    There is enough fresh water on Earth to supply every human being with enough drinking water. The main problem we face with regards to water is that it is unevenly distributed, polluted, mismanaged and wasted. Tony Allan, the author of Virtual Water, asserts that water follows money. This refers to the fact that rich countries and societies with money and affluence have more access to safe drinking water even when they live in regions without much water. It also means that areas with large supplies of water can still have water scarcity if they lack the financial resources to build the infrastructure to supply people with safe clean drinking water. Water scarcity is caused by the demand for water being greater than the supply. Scarcity can be defined as either physical scarcity or economic scarcity.

    Physical water scarcity is a situation where there is an actual shortage of water, regardless of quality or infrastructure. It is estimated that about 1.2 million people around the world are experiencing physical water scarcity. Economic scarcity is a condition where countries lack the financial resources and/or infrastructure to supply their citizens with reliable safe drinking water. About 1.6 billion people are experiencing economic water shortage; most of them live in less industrialized countries. For a lot of places in the world, scarcity is a transient condition that can be reduced or eliminated by installing the right infrastructure. The major problem in less industrialized countries is the lack of political, financial, and physical structures to provide water to everyone. A few rich people in these countries get the clean water while the majority of the people who cannot afford to pay for it are left out. Examples of such communities include many villages in Africa, Asia, and South America. Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\) shows communities in southeast Kenya that are experiencing severe water shortages primarily due to lack of infrastructure. Women in these communities must walk long distances to get untreated and contaminated water for drinking and other household needs.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Communities in southeast Kenya without ready access to safe drinking water. (A) Groundwater in the area is too salty for consumption. B) Maasai women in Amboseli National Park collecting water from a wetland. (C) Women in Magwede village in SE Kenya walking long distances to get water from a Kiosk. D) Children collecting water in Bungule Village from a water kiosk that is only open for about an hour every day. Photo credit: Jonathan Levy, Sam Mutiti and Christine Mutiti