We live on a blue planet. Seventy per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, which is undeniably our planet’s most precious natural resource. Water is the source of life, and all creatures benefit from it – from the smallest microbe to the largest whale. For us humans, it is no different. We use water every day in various ways. Water keeps our bodies clean, not to mention our clothes, our household items and our pets. We use water for our farms and our gardens. We use water for cooking. And most importantly, we use water for drinking.
Water, while seemingly abundant, is a scarce resource. Only 3% of the water that covers our planet is freshwater, and of the 3%, 2.6% is inaccessible – locked away in ice caps, in glaciers or frozen in the poles. This leaves us with only 0.4% of Earth’s water that we can use for our daily lives.
What is World Water Day?
During the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the UN declared that 22 March every year would be commemorated as World Water Day, and it was held for the first time in 1993. World Water Day was created to stress the importance of freshwater and to address the world’s water crisis.
The World’s Water Crisis
When most of us think about where to get water from, it is as easy as turning on the tap and water comes out. But where does this seemingly limitless supply come from?
Most of the water that is readily available for use comes from what is called surface water. Surface water is freshwater that can be found above ground in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. This is the water that we use for farms and our daily public supply.
Unfortunately, surface water is easily contaminated by pollutants. Rivers become a way to dispose of anything – from food wrappers to waste from chemical plants. Once these sources become contaminated, what little supply of freshwater we have gets reduced even further. Water contamination is one of the leading causes of death in children under 5 years old.
Water pollution is only one problem that needs to be addressed. A more global problem is climate change, which can cause drought and can further decrease water supply especially in regions where water is already scarce. Researchers are predicting that Jordan, a country already suffering extreme water shortages, will experience a 30% reduction in rainfall by 2100, which will further increase and lengthen the occurrence of droughts. California is also one state that is already severely affected by climate change and the water crisis. Year after year, forest fires and droughts are getting worse.
Most people take water for granted, especially those enjoying the comfort of urban living. Water scarcity is real and can be felt greatly, especially in marginalised regions in the world today. To illustrate: the average American family uses up to 500 gallons of water a day, whereas an average African family only uses 5 gallons. Some African women even have to walk 4 miles daily to get their household supply of water.
The world’s population is continuously growing and so is the demand for freshwater. Researchers predict that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. And with the demand for freshwater continuing to rise, so will the water conflicts around the world.
There are ongoing disputes between nations for the right to freshwater. There is a conflict between the US and Mexico for the water from the Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers. In Asia, the dwindling glaciers in the Himalayas are posing a problem for China, India and Pakistan, affecting over 270 million people. In Africa, several nations depend on the Nile for freshwater, namely Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, and a dispute over Ethiopia’s dam construction is a major cause of international concern.
What we can do
As individuals, the water crisis may seem too daunting a task to tackle, but there are a lot of things we can do to conserve water. First of all, avoiding bottled water, whenever possible, can help. It takes 3 litres of water to produce 1 litre of bottled water, and that is a lot of wasted water. Not only that, but the production of bottled water puts a strain on water sources such as springs and aquifers, which is damaging to the environment.
What can also help, is to be conscious of the use of water in the household. For instance, being smart about taking showers, turning off the tap when shaving or brushing your teeth, fixing leaks and using the economy setting on dishwashers and washing machines can save water that would otherwise just go to waste.
Protecting water supplies when travelling
It is not only when we’re at home that we should be conscious of our water usage. Being responsible whilst we’re away is also so important, especially if travelling to a place where water is scarce.
Bringing your own bottle whenever you’re travelling can help reduce the need for bottled water. Before you go, check to see whether the tap water at your destination is safe to drink and, if not, check out water purifying tablets or bottles that have filters in them to see if they’re suitable. Ask your hotel or accommodation provider if they can fill your bottle up for you, or, if there are some available and it’s safe, use public fountains as a refill source. If you’re travelling closer to home and you’re taking your own vehicle, for instance, while camping, you can opt to buy a large refillable water container and fill it up at home instead of buying commercially available bottled water.
It’s also so important to respect the places you visit. Due to the bad deeds of some, in certain places tourists have earned a bad reputation thanks to their careless acts. Things like littering in the streets, either deliberately or by not throwing out rubbish the proper way, can add to water pollution levels; things can get swept away by rainfall or via drains and ultimately end up in our rivers or oceans. We’ve all seen the photos of riverbanks and beaches covered in rubbish. Not only does it look and smell awful, but this waste can also harm the resident sea life or humans that rely on these waters for their livelihoods.
In an effort to save water, take showers rather than baths if you can. Whilst a long soak in the tub after a hard day’s sightseeing might be great for those aching feet, taking a shower uses a lot less water and so is much better for the environment and possibly the local community depending on the water situation. Refusing daily laundry service is also another great way to reduce water consumption when away. Nowadays many hotels have options for you to re-use your towels and bedding for a number of days instead of having them changed daily. Doing laundry can be really water-intensive, especially when done on such an industrial scale. Look for a door or room tag that you can hang up to let housekeeping know your preferences, or check the bathroom to see if there are instructions on where to hang your towels to reuse them. If there aren’t any obvious instructions, just let them know at reception (but make sure they actually do what you ask!). One of the biggest things you can do actually happens before you travel – when choosing your accommodation, check to see what efforts they’re making in relation to water conservation. In addition to the standard towel/bedding re-usage policies, many of our hotel partners here at Charistay go a step further, with things like composting toilets, the re-use of greywater to water the garden, and other water filtration methods. All of these practices can have a massive positive impact not only on the environment but also on the local community.
Lastly, awareness is key. Being responsible with water usage doesn’t have to take over your trip or your daily life, but being aware of the impact our actions can have is a massive first step to improving things for everyone. We all have to take part in spreading the word about water conservation, and hopefully leave a better and healthier planet for generations to come.
Got a trip for conserving water either at home or whilst travelling? Let us know on our @charistaytravel social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
Tags:nature, plastics, pollution, sustainability, sustainable travel, travelling, United Nations, water, water scarcity