Future wars over water – for humans and for agriculture – are now considered inevitable.
Water covers 70 per cent of the planet. Of that amount, 97 per cent is undrinkable seawater. Another two per cent is locked up in the polar ice caps – leaving one per cent available for human use. More than half of that is polluted.
What is more, some of the mightiest rivers on the planet, including the Ganges, the Niger and the Yellow river, are drying up because of climate change.
Aquifers are being depleted all over the world. Those that are replenished by rain can end up polluted by nitrites used in industrial farming, sewage and other chemicals that gradually seep into groundwater.
Our seas are awash with man-made rubbish that won’t disintegrate, heavy metals that persist for thousands of years in the food chain, radioactive nuclides, oils spills and untreated sewage.
We in the West take our water for granted – it’s cheap and available (at only £1 per 10,000 litres) – yet an estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. The increase in global water-use expected by 2020 is 40 per cent.
Future wars over water – for humans and for agriculture – are now considered inevitable. There is no substance on Earth more crucial to survival than water – which makes it all the more attractive to privatise. Water has become a business opportunity, a commodity, and privatisation often denies local people access to this new ‘blue gold’.
Many of the groups below have worked tirelessly towards the creation of a world where we can protect our water supplies from pollution, ensure stocks last and enable as many people as possible to have fair and easy access to it.
Drinking tap water certainly makes more economic sense and is a better environmental choice than buying bottled. Of the three billion empty plastic bottles thrown away in Britain each year, only 10 per cent are recycled, with the rest going into landfill. Founded by ethical communications agency Provokateur, as well as campaigning against bottled water, Tap has championed higher quality tap-water and sells products that make drinking tap water fashionable, easy and safe.
Founded on the premise that citizens must roll up their sleeves to defend their waterways, the Waterkeeper Alliance is an international grassroots advocacy organisation based in the US, with 182 waterway-conservation programmes and growing. Part investigator, scientist, lawyer and advocate, ‘waterkeepers’ are people who are recognised by communities, local governments and media as a voice for the protection and preservation of a particular body of water, be it river, lake or bay.
Demand for water is growing. In the UK we use about 150 litres of water a day (enough to fill 15 buckets) – almost 50 per cent more water than 25 years ago. Waterwise, a UK NGO, is focused on decreasing water consumption in Britain and is the leading water authority on water efficiency. It says saving water will make sure the water we do get lasts, and will reduce the pressure on the environment.
Blue Planet Project
Access to water is a fundamental human right. This global initiative based in Canada works to protect the world’s fresh water from the growing threats of trade and privatisation.
This group focuses on stopping destructive river projects around the world and defending the rights of communities that depend on them. As well as opposing destructive dams and the development model they advance, it encourages better ways of meeting the need for water, energy and protection from floods.
Fluoride Action Network
Why is it that a chemical historically used as a rat poison and linked to cancer, brittle bones and thyroid disease is also routinely added to the water supply of some six million Brits? In the US, 70 per cent of the water is fluoridated. The Fluoride Action Network, an international coalition based in the US, is packed with information about the toxicity and hidden health impacts of fluoride.
Plastic rubbish in our oceans is one of the most under-recognised yet ubiquitous issues facing our planet. It affects millions of square miles of ocean and is miles deep, either floating, swirling beneath the surface or sunk to the sea floor. Algalita is a US-based non-profit, independent research foundation examining the scope of plastic contamination and its implications on the food chain. The focus is on the North Pacific subtropical gyre, dubbed the great Pacific garbage Patch, a swirling vortex of plastic soup estimated to be twice the size of Texas.
Surfers Against Sewage
Wetsuits, gas masks and a six-foot inflatable turd have been the essential attention-grabbing tools of the trade used by this UK non-profit organisation, founded in 1990 by a group of cornish surfers who were ‘sick of getting sick’ through repeated ear, nose, throat and gastric infections after going in the sea. Joined by like-minded water-users from around the UK, the campaign has had a considerable impact.
WaterAid lobbied to establish the right to water, declared by the UN in 2002, and is now working to help the world’s poorest people achieve that right. An international charity, it works in 17 countries, providing water, sanitation and hygiene education. It is also lobbying to double the financing from all sources that is currently spent on the issue.
Written in 2004 by Dame Anita Roddick and Brooke Shelby Biggs, with contributions from Vandana Shiva and Robert F. Kennedy Jr, this book (subtitled Saints, Sinners, Truth and Lies about the Global Water Crisis) is a helpful if frightening overview of the growing global water crisis. Proceeds from its sale help support grassroots groups, NGOs and individuals trying to address this problem.
Published by Anita Roddick Books, £9.99