Water. That delicious ubiquitous substance that sets our emerald green and aquamarine planet apart from the every other planet in the known universe. Earth’s oceans hold 97% of all the water found on our planet, but only 2.4% of all water found on Earth is freshwater, of that small margin over 87.2% is tied up in frozen glaciers, ice and snow. The presence or absence of water is the only difference that distinguishes a lush tropical rainforest from a dry desert, an oasis from certain death. Our own bodies are made up of 60% water, our brains 70%. Without, where would we be?
According to UNICEF/WHO, 2 billion people lack access to safe water supplies (2012). Globally, that’s approximately one in eight people, or three times the population of the entire United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that each year a population the size of Los Angeles, 3.575 million people, die from water-related disease (2008). Traditional forms of water collection from rivers, streams, and ponds are no longer safe for the 2 billion people who rely upon available surface water sources for their daily drinking, washing, and bathing needs. As human populations increase, agricultural production increases, which leads to an increase in both use and contamination of water sources. This especially affects surface water, where agri-chemicals such as fertilizers and herbicides wash into rivers, streams, and ponds, and percolate down into groundwater sources, the largest source of available fresh water on the planet (12%).
While rainwater catchment on personal homes is the first step to increasing accessibility to fresh water for personal use, less than 0.001% of the total world water supply is actually found in the rain clouds. Of the largest source of fresh water, groundwater is tapped increasingly by large agriculture, which extracts the precious resource as readily as oil is pumped from resevoirs. Indeed, water is the new oil, and Big Ag is the largest consumer, irresponsibly irrigating crops: flooding swaled beds or utilizing sprinklers that spray water into the air, losing much of the precious resource to evaporation by wind or sun.
To increase water supplies, agroecology can provide solutions proven by nature. Planting native perennial species, such as fruit or nut trees, not only reduces water dependency from thirsty non-native species, but can also encourage the stabilization of weather patterns as plants absorb groundwater and pump it back into the atmosphere to form clouds (and eventually rain) through the hydrologic cycle. So plant a tree today, harvest the rain tomorrow, and rest assured your children’s children will have an abundant Earth of plentiful water and food.
UNICEF/WHO. 2012. Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation.
World Health Organization. 2008. Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits, and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health.
- Water Facts: Stats and General Info. (joesworldwatertour.wordpress.com)
- International World Water Day 2012 focuses on sustainable freshwater resources (quenchonline.com)
- Water footprint (vandegevel.wordpress.com)
- Future we want: Water for everyone (devex.com)