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Water - Impacts of water insecurity

Impacts of water insecurity – waterborne disease and water pollution, food production, industrial output, potential for conflict where demand exceeds supply.

Key Words
Waterborne diseases
- Diseases caused by microorganisms that are transmitted in contaminated water. Infection commonly results during bathing, washing, drinking, in the preparation of food, or the consumption of infected food. E.g. cholera, typhoid, botulism.
Water conflict - Disputes between different regions or countries about the distribution and use of freshwater. Conflicts arise from the gap between growing demands and diminishing supplies.

Lack of available clean water poses significant problems for people and governments around the world.  The impacts of waterborne disease and water pollution on people can be catastrophic.  Whilst low water availability can lower food production and industrial output, and potentially lead to conflict.

Lack of clean water and waterborne diseases
Water quality can have a massive impact on people, and this links to India and its attempts to clean up the River Ganges (see example box).  Poor water quality has a direct impact on people’s lives, as it is an essential element for live.  Poor water quality can lead to waterborne disease, which weakens people and therefore has a direct impact on their productivity and hence economic development.  Diseases related to poor quality water include Bilharzia (snail fever, where snails transmit flatworms to people causing internal organ damage), Yellow fever and Malaria (both related to mosquitos, which breed around water) and cholera (extreme diarrhoea).  Water supply is another major issue because in many parts of the world unreliable water supplies limit agriculture and other development areas.  If people are searching for and carrying water, they cannot focus their energies on other areas of the economy, limiting development further. According to WaterAid;
• 289,000 children under 5 die each year due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That’s 800 a day, or 1 child every 2 minutes.
• 663 million people in the world don't have access to safe water. This is roughly one in ten of the world's population
• 2.4 billion people don't have access to adequate sanitation, almost two-fifths of the world's population.

Despite this, progress has been made.  The Millennium Development Goals aimed to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. By 2015 world had met that target and between 1990 and 2015, 2.6 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources.

Water pollution
There are many causes of water pollution but the main one is agriculture.  The use of fertilisers causes eutrophication and can be dangerous to human health.  Industrial pollutants can be even more hazardous.  In the Niger Delta where oil is produced, the Ogoni people have noticed big impacts from pollution of their waters from oil spills.  Heavy metals from the oil industry spill into waterways and ground water, people eat contaminated fish and agriculture is badly affected.  This has caused more mercury poisoning, impacting pregnant women and increasing the number of deformed babies.

"Our crops are no longer productive. No fish in the water."

Emadee Roberts Kpai, farmer from Kegbara Dere, Ogoniland


Emadee, 83 years old, saw oil spills devastate his lands:

“Things were much better before Shell arrived. Since Shell came to this area, things began to change for the worse in our communities. This is because back then, if you go down to the creeks to fish, there was no crude oil in the creeks, so you can get fish. If you plant crops, gas will not destroy anything you plant.

“When Shell came to our community, the town crier called and we assembled at the town square and Shell addressed us. They promised that if they find oil here they’ll transform our community and everybody will be happy. We were all happy. They came appealing to us to grant them permission for their exploration.

“Our crops are no longer productive. There are no more fish in the water. We plant the crops, they grow but the harvest is poor. We used to go fishing. We used to swim. We used to do all sorts of things in the river, because it was clean. Even our fruit trees were very productive. Before the pollution and contamination, children would go to the river and swim and play, but now no more.”

Impacts on food production
Modern farming is heavily reliant upon reliable water supply throughout the year.  It is used to boost crop yields and to water plants during drier periods of the year.  This has a significant boost to food supplies and can positively impact on people’s lives.  Water shortages can threaten this and contribute to food insecurity.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that 795 million people were in danger from undernourishment between 2014 and 2016.

Impacts on industrial output
Water is used to make things such as food products, in processing and in cooling. Water is also essential for producing HEP (Hydro Electric Power) and for steam needed to drive turbines in fossil fuel powered and nuclear powered power stations. It is also used to provide cooling in thermal power stations. This means that where water is scarce economic output will go down.  In many LICs, most industrial waste is dumped untreated into rivers.  This contributes to the water pollution mentioned above.

The potential for conflict where demand exceeds supply
Conflict can take many forms, from simple disagreements to all-out war.  In the UK it is wetter in the west than in the east, whilst the greatest demand for water is from the South East Region of England.  This has set up a national debate over if we should have a national water grid moving water from the areas of surplus to areas of deficit (the South East).  Some conflicts have the potential to be more severe.

Water conflicts can occur between two or more neighbouring countries that share a water source that is transboundary, such as a river, sea, or groundwater basin. For example, the Middle East has only 1% of the world's freshwater shared among 5% of the world's population.

According to UNESCO, the current interstate conflicts occur mainly;

1. In the Middle East (disputes stemming from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers among Turkey, Syria, and Iraq; and the Jordan River conflict among Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and the State of Palestine),
2. In Africa (Nile River-related conflicts among Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan). Water conflict has been avoided here by the signing of a “declaration of Principles” by Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt to share the use of the river.  Despite this, in Ethiopia the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is under construction which threatens water supplies downstream in both Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia says the $4.7bn (£3.1bn) dam will eventually provide 6,000 megawatts of power.
3. In Central Asia (the Aral Sea conflict among Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan)

The Ganges River is a sacred Indian river that flows in the North of the country.  Pollution of the Ganges has become so serious that bathing in and drinking its water has become very dangerous.  The major polluting industry along the Ganges is the leather industry from which Chromium and other chemicals leak into the river.  Another huge source of pollution is that of the nearly 1 billion litres of mostly untreated raw sewage that enters the river every day.  Inadequate cremation procedures result in partially burnt or unburnt corpses floating in the river.  The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was set up in 1985 by the Indian government with British and Dutch support to build a number of waste treatment facilities.  Under the GAP sewage is intercepted and water is diverted for treatment and several electrical crematoria have been built.  The project is now in its second phase - GAP II.

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