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Water is life

31 March 2016
“Goal six of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deals explicitly with the linked issues of water and sanitation. But some of the key issues on water are invisible. The water is either deep underground or flowing in atmospheric rivers of moisture high in the sky. Water may be polluted with invisible chemicals, and changes to water availability and quality may be affecting marginalized people in remote areas. In some places, all of the above coincide.” (World Economic Forum, September 2015).

“Goal six of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deals explicitly with the linked issues of water and sanitation. But some of the key issues on water are invisible. The water is either deep underground or flowing in atmospheric rivers of moisture high in the sky. Water may be polluted with invisible chemicals, and changes to water availability and quality may be affecting marginalized people in remote areas. In some places, all of the above coincide.” (World Economic Forum, September 2015).

Alberto Garrido

The big question when a planet is discovered is: Is there water?  If there is no water, there is no life.  We depend on water as much as we depend on air.  We need water to drink and also to wash ourselves and cook.  We need the biggest amount of water to produce food.

If we pick a person randomly from any country and we calculate the amount of water used to produce what a person eats, this figure will reach about 4,000 liters of water per day.  This is the amount of water required to produce the food necessary for that person to live a healthy life, about 20 full bathtubs per day.

But water is a renewable natural resource.  The number of water molecules on earth and in the atmosphere is constant, and it does not stop flowing.  But when we use water, we usually pollute it.  And when we use it again, we want it to be as pure as possible because our health, the lands we irrigate, and industries require clean water.  That is why we have to purify it, even if that costs money.  It is an investment that benefits us directly because a healthy environment allows us to live better and have a healthier life.

There is no life without water.  Nature depends on its quality and conservation.  If we waste it, extracting it irresponsibly from surface or underwater natural resources, it will not be available for other people, other uses or other living beings that depend on it.

Climate change is altering the water cycle.  Where it is scarce it will be even more so, where there is a surplus there will be higher risks of floods.  It is highly likely that the extreme weather events will increase.  That means we need to maximize the resource conservation, reduce the unnecessary consumption to a minimum, and stop polluting it.  We are all responsible.

During the World Economic Forum in September 2015, it was acknowledged that meeting SDG6 “requires getting the balance right between blue water, known as ‘run-off’ – water in rivers and deep underground in aquifers, which take thousands of years to replenish, and green water – the rainwater falling on land and in soils. In many places, green water is a largely unmanaged supply of water but with the right incentives, this water could be harvested more effectively.”

During the World Economic Forum in September 2015, it was acknowledged that meeting SDG6 “requires getting the balance right between blue water, known as ‘run-off’ – water in rivers and deep underground in aquifers, which take thousands of years to replenish, and green water – the rainwater falling on land and in soils. In many places, green water is a largely unmanaged supply of water but with the right incentives, this water could be harvested more effectively.”

Water is present but hidden in everything we buy, consume, and need.  There is nothing that can be produced without water – from an apple to a mobile phone.  There is much more water we do not see than the water that comes out of our taps at home or when we flush the toilet.

That is why we have the moral obligation to preserve it for current use in our everyday life and for tomorrow, for future generations.

We can do a lot.  The consumption of meat and dairy products in general requires a lot of water in relation with the energy and nutrients they give us.  There is no need to stop consuming them as there is enough water for everyone, but it is essential to never waste them, throwing them away without thinking.  This happens with any good in general but it is with food that the waste has more severe consequences.

Education influences significantly the way in which people uses resources, especially water.  Through education and awareness, people become more aware of its importance and use methods to make a more efficient and sustainable use.

In some situations, educated farmers in areas where the water is scarce tend to use more efficient water management techniques.  In some households in urban and rural areas in India, parents who completed primary education are more likely to use water purification techniques, more so if they have completed secondary education.  In high-income countries, people with high levels of education tend to save more water.

When we see a river filled with clean water, we feel a special and intimate emotion similar to when we see a noble animal in its natural environment.  But it is also an appeal to our conscience.  We have to acknowledge how lucky we are to live on earth and we have the obligation to preserve manage and sustain this precious resource.

Alberto Garrido is professor of agricultural and resource economics at the Polytechnic University of Madrid in Spain.

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