Water is a prerequisite for the survival, growth, and development of all living things, and the environment that they live in. It is a vital resource for drinking, sanitation, and food production; and an essential resource for agriculture (irrigation), transportation heat, and energy-generation. Simply put, water is the cornerstone of life.
However, water is also a renewable resource that can be threatened by environmental changes, political and economic stability, and population growth. This implies that water too can insecure, and water insecurity fuels violence, migration, instability, and human affliction. Therefore, water security has become a global concern, even for the United Nations.
What Is Water Security?
The United Nations defined water security as, “The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development; for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution, and water-related diseases; and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace, and political stability.”
Water security is aimed at providing access to clean and safe drinking water, providing sufficient water for agriculture, and food production, conserving water supplies, improving water distribution, reducing conflicts, and improving cooperation, and addressing issues of water stress.
Sources of Water
There are three significant sources of water: ground (underground) water, surface water, and rainfall water.
Groundwater or underground water refers to water found underground (beneath the earth surfaces), precisely in pores, fractures, spaces, and cracks in soil, sand, and rocks. Groundwater often seeps into these permeable rocks to form aquifers, which are sources of usable water such as wells, springs, and boreholes. Groundwater is natural stores of water that often free from microbial contamination. It is accessible by almost everyone and easy to distribute. However, they could have harmful chemical or mineral substances.
Surface water refers to any water found on the surface earth such as lakes, streams, rivers, reservoirs, oceans, ponds, and wetlands. They are replenished by rainfall and desalination of groundwater. They are lost mainly to evaporation, seepage into groundwater, and human usage. The quality of surface water varies from place to place, and it is often treated before use. It is the primary source of atmospheric water.
Rainfall water is a product of the water cycle, and it is often the source of replenishing both groundwater and surface water.
Components of Water Demand
Water use is the determinant of water demand. The parts of water demand refer to areas of water consumption. These areas fall into three categories: agricultural claim, industrial and commercial demand, and domestic usage. Agricultural demand includes water usage in crop production, chemical application, irrigation farming, livestock watering, frost control, cleaning, and washing. Industrial and commercial demand include water usage in heating turbines and transportation, coolants, and energy generation, and industrial processes like food, paper, and textile production. Domestic demand includes water used in washing, cleaning, personal hygiene, drinking, and food production.
Water stress is a water security concerns that occur when the demand for water exceeds supply in any geographic area or time. Water stress caused by quantitative or qualitative unavailability of water. It is caused by drought, deforestation, flood, climate change, greenhouse gases, increased water pollution, wasteful use, and overpopulation.
Relationship of Water Supply to Key Aspects of Physical Geography
There are three primary aspects of physical geography: climate, geology, and drainage, and each of these aspects has a distinct relationship with water supply. Climate changes due to human activities and increased greenhouse gas emissions have increased atmospheric temperature, which alters the water cycle and results in inadequate water supply in terms of quantity and quality. An increase in temperature causes irregular precipitation and evaporation that develops standard rainfall patterns, and lead to increased drought, or flooding in different places.
It also boosts sea levels by triggering the rapid melting of glaciers. Flooding in some areas could damage sewer systems and treatment plants, which results in water pollution. Geological changes such as earthquakes and volcanoes, can create impermeable rocks, and cause water to remain on surface water bodies. This will affect the volume of water in aquifers, and reduce the quality of surface water.
Drainage systems also affect the quality of water. A sound drainage system collects, treat, and discharge wastewater. However, in most places, the treatment of sewage is not part of the drainage system. This is a significant cause of water pollution, especially in surface water sources, resulting in the supply of low-quality water.
Strategies to Increase Water Supply
Over 60% of the world’s landmass is filled with water. There is enough water for everyone. However, availability and supply vary from place to place. The difference in these areas is primarily due to the strategies of conserving water and increasing its amount. Some of these strategies require substantial monetary investment. Others are small-scale and are less expensive to manage, and a few plans are natural.
Strategies for increasing water supply can be grouped into these categories:
A water catchment is a natural geographical space where rainfall run-off water is collected. A watershed is a source of water for surface water bodies like oceans, rivers, ponds, etc., and groundwater. To increase water supply, these water catchment areas must be protected from sewage contamination, agricultural activities, deforestation, and industrial exploitations.
Diversion and Transfer
Water diversion or water transfer refers to the movement of water from an area of surplus to another area for storage, treatment, industrial and construction uses, and scarcity alleviation purposes. Water can be diverted from natural sources to dams, and treatment plants, and can be transferred across long distances to areas of scarcity through canals, pipes.
Water storage is one of the most common strategies for increasing water supply. The primary method used for water storage in most places is dams’ construction. These are colossal steel and concrete structures that block and divert river water into a semi-underground reservoir. Barriers can also be used to generate electricity using heat turbines. Another method of water storage is using large storage tanks. This method is often a domestic method for water storage.
It is important to note that dams have some environmental effects, primarily on aquatic life. They prevent the free migration of fishes which could threaten their existence and lead to extinction. Dams also alter the habitat and ecosystem of marine life by changing the chemical properties of the river, stopping sediment replenishment, and creating a reservoir habitat for some species.
Desalination and Treatment
Ocean or sea waters are often unsafe for use due to their high salt content. Desalination is the treatment of salt water to remove its constituent minerals and increase its quality. Sometimes the water is also treated to remove pathogens, which makes it safe for domestic, commercial, and industrial use.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the strategies to manage water consumption and demand?
Many approaches have been developed, recommended, and implemented to manage water consumption and demand. These strategies can be grouped into different means of water use. For example, water demand and consumption for domestic use can be managed by using strategies such as the use of shower-flow restrictors, washing machines, ultra-low flush toilets, etc. Water demand for agricultural use can be managed and reduced by using a micro-spray irrigation system, soil moisture sensors, water reuse, etc.
While water consumption and demand for industrial use can be managed by water recycling, process water reuse, water recirculation, etc.
On a general note, general education on the use of water, and water security, leak detection and repairs, as well as water metering systems will also reduce water consumption and demand.
What are the Sustainability Issues Associated with Water Management?
The general concept of sustainable water management is aimed at achieving a more excellent long-term balance between supply and demand, especially in areas of water shortage and water stress, to help maintain water supplies for future generations. However, a lot of issues are arising from different countries on the best water sustainability management that will help them achieve the goals of sustainability.
The main water sustainability issue is the virtual water trade that was proposed by Professor John Allan. His concept advises countries experiencing water stress to export food products that take less water to produce, and import those that require more water to provide. Other sustainability issues center on the best management options for groundwater and greywater.
What do you mean by water conflict?
Water conflict refers to local, national, or opposing international interests of different states, countries, or even groups of public and private users over the use and management of water resources. The leading cause of water conflicts is water scarcity or water stress. Which are often due to low rainfall, overpopulation, industrialization, climate change, water pollution, and other non-water related conflicts due to historical tensions?