Water Security – what it is and why is important

Two hand cupping running water

Water is such a common element in our daily lives that it can be overlooked when discussing climate-related security issues. The lack of access to fresh water supplies in some countries and the glooming threat of water shortages it’s a humanitarian challenge that needs to be discussed. We often forget that water is not unlimited despite it flowing through the pipes in our homes, yet not everyone in the world has the luxury of having fresh and safe water readily available. Some people are struggling to find water sources free from diseases, and need to travel miles to collect it. The need for water has shaped history and as air, it is a crucial element of human survival. Therefore, it is essential discussing the problem of access to this vital utility.

Water Security

The UN defines 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 disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.”

In short, it means the ability to sustain adequate levels of fresh water supply for humans and wildlife. It is such an important topic and human need, the UN made it one of its Sustainable Development Goals, more precisely goal 6 “to ensure water and sanitation for all by 2030”. 

No matter who you are or where you are from, water is a vital resource for all, yet the action taken to revitalise the natural supply and ensure safe and clean water for everyone is minimal. It is estimated that 44% of household wastewater is not treated safely and 2.3 billion people live in highly water-stressed countries. These are only a few statistics that indicate the lack of progress in achieving any success in SDG6. International leaders outlined the need and started addressing this issue but have shown little action to achieve success in sustaining this resource. Water security is fundamentally the idea that there is enough clean water to meet current and future demands while ensuring the protection of the environment. It also seeks to establish good governance of water and transboundary cooperation from countries that share a water source. Water security also looks to exempt itself from human conflicts to ensure that our global water infrastructure is never compromised and that there is enough finance to allow for development and innovation.  

However, privatisation, a concept that involves the selling of ownership to the private sector, has become a more widely recognised tool across several countries in both developed and developing nations. The idea for the introduction of private ownership and management of the water supply was to alleviate political interference and public management.  It has affected multiple public utilities including electricity, transport, and for the purpose of this article the water industry. The notion for private management in the water industry was to increase investments and improve the infrastructure, especially in England. But there is a claim that water privatisation and environmental marketisation have turned water into a commodity rather than a public right as a natural resource.  Impacting the environmental quality and the likelihood of increasing scarcity because the water industry is becoming more of a commodity whilst also becoming a security issue due to a shortage in global supply. Therefore, sustaining the water supply and understanding the problems present in delivering this utility is essential for the future of water provision. 

Why is it important to discuss today?

Water is so vital to life on earth so the importance of ensuring water security is so high up on the agenda in today’s environment due to the high levels of people living in water-stressed areas. Scarcity of water has never been more prevalent in the world and it is one of the greatest challenges we are facing now, therefore, the goal to eradicate the problem is achieving water security.

The United Nations has mentioned that in the last 100 years global water usage has been increasing twice as much as the global population growth. It is not an area that people usually think about when the climate crisis is mentioned. Sometimes this is down to having a supply straight to the taps in your house but unfortunately, there is a scarcity happening despite a full supply of water being pumped to your house. This can be either a physical or an economic scarcity. A physical scarcity means there is an inadequate amount of water to meet the demands of people and wildlife. And an economic scarcity is the inability of government or private management and inadequate infrastructure to cope with providing volumes of water. 

Water security is vital to reduce the chances of more water shortages in future decades as shortages of an essential resource will tend to cause conflicts and tension which would be distarious. Although it is not as far away as we may think, currently as recent as in 2018 Syria was left to worry about water as bombs dropped in the country left millions of Damascus residents with no water supply for more than 30 days. A threat of water stress and political instability can be a cause for tension and conflicts could arise which is why it is important to discuss water security. 

Outside of conflict, water is highly essential for the agricultural industry. There’s a need for water to produce food for all citizens of the world, and according to the FAO agriculture makes up over 90% of water use and with global populations rising each year demand will inevitably rise to meet the needs of rising populations. This will impact the global food production and water usage in the production of food. In addition to rising populations climate change is having an immense effect on agricultural developments due to droughts and increasing temperatures. It is so important to recognise that water is crucial to the stability of countries and global society. It fuels so much of everyday life and if there is not enough water to meet demands water security is not achievable. Water is a resource that is natural and renewable but that does not mean it is infinite, the amount of fresh and sanitary water accessible at any one time is only finite and revitalisation may be of balance. Be more mindful of your water consumption and try to lobby your MPs and local councils on improving any water security measures in your area to help accomplish clean water for all.

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