What do we need water for?
You might think ‘Well, I only drink a few litres a day’ but your actual water use is so much more. Think about the first things you did this morning. Maybe you went to the loo, brushed your teeth and ate breakfast. All of these activities involve water.
In fact, most people use at least 3,000 litres per day.
The trouble is that lots of people can’t access enough water or only have access to dirty water which makes them sick.
So what can we do to help?
We need to use water more efficiently, build wells and other infrastructure to bring water to communities that need it and design technology to clean dirty water so that it is safe to use.
There are lots of ways that anyone, including you, can make a difference to make sure everyone has enough clean water. For example, you could: limit your personal water consumption or raise money for a charity that builds wells.
Everyone can take action to make real change. What will you do?
There are lots of charities that need your help to bring clean water and sanitation to everyone around the world.
For example, WaterAid and Charity:Water provide clean water and toilets to communities around the world.
See how you can support them in their amazing work.
What would you do if you woke up one morning, opened the tap and no water came out? You would probably be able to make do for a couple of hours but if the situation continued for longer than a day, you may have a problem!
What would you need water for? When you start thinking about it, you’ll soon realise that you need water for many things besides drinking.
You and your family need water to:
You might think: ‘It’s easy, we’ll just go buy water’. But how much water would you need to buy?
So, to come back to your water crisis – you can now see how there is no way your family is going to buy all that water every day!
The incredible thing is, you use way more water than this every day. There is virtual waterWater you didn’t use directly, it was used to make something you use. in every product you use and in every bite of food you eat. This is ‘hidden’ water that you don’t see. It takes massive amounts of water to grow food and make things in factories so it’s easy to not realise how much water goes into these things. You’ll be surprised but the virtual water that is used to grow your food on a farm is way more than the actual water you use from the tap in your house.
You will remember from earlier that every person uses 300 – 400 litres of water every day. Well, that’s only what you use directly from a tap. When you add virtual water, the real number is much higher. It varies depending on how you live but every person uses about 3,000 – 6,000 litres of water every single day.
Water scarcity is when there is not enough water.
Water scarcity happens because of natural causes such as a droughtA period of dry weather resulting in a water shortage., or human causes, such as over-consumptionUsing too much of something..
A shocking 40% of the world’s population – so almost half the people in the world – are affected by water scarcity.
Water quality is whether or not the water is clean and healthy.
All around the world, water quality is worsening because of the increase in pollutantsThings or substances that cause pollution.. Examples of pollutants include:
More than 80% of human wastewaterWater that has been used in a home, business or factory. is released directly into rivers and seas. This water often contains dangerous chemicals that we don’t even think about.
People without access to enough clean water can’t do basic things – like drinking, cooking, washing and going to the toilet.
Using dirty water is very dangerous and can make people sick. Quite a few diseases are spread through dirty water – like cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.
In some countries, people must travel very far to get water. Usually, the women and children fetch water while the men are at work. These women and children may spend up to 8 hours per day walking. This means they don’t have as much opportunity to do other things – such as going to school or earning an incomeMoney received from different sources. This can be from jobs, tips, a business or investments.
Watch to see what a day in the life of a 13-year-old girl living in Ethiopia looks like. Think about the similarities and differences to a day in your life.
Water scarcity and quality depend on where you live. Some countries are water-scarce, some have poor water quality and others have problems with both.
In the last 100 years, dirty water and poor sanitation have led to more deaths than any other cause. Scientists, politicians and the media have usually focused on the water crisis in parts of the world that aren’t developed very well. These are places like the countries below the Sahara Desert in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, where the greatest number of people are dying because of water problems.
But things are changing. Attention is also now being drawn to well-developed countries, such as the UK, which are starting to run a higher risk of water scarcity. While these countries are currently what we call ‘water secure’, meaning that they have enough safe water available, it is feared that if we do not change our behaviour soon, this will no longer be the case.
71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, so our planet has enough water for everyone – if we can help people access it and use it wisely.
To beat the water crisis, everyone must use less water, and clean and safe water should be taken directly to people that need it. Take a look at these solutions in a bit more detail.
Scientists are developing technologies to use water more efficiently and encourage people to change the way they use water.
Everyone can help by turning the tap off when they brush their teeth, having a shower instead of a bath and washing their car with a bucket and sponge rather than using a car wash. Yet, there is so much more that can be done – saving water doesn’t stop there! The big problem is that lots of people still don’t understand how bad the water crisis is and they continue in their bad habits. This is why people need to raise awareness and urge everyone to make changes to the way they behave.
Scientists are working on a way to create crops that need less water. They can do this by breeding new types of crops or by genetically modifyingWhen bits of DNA (the chemical that carries genetic code) are tweaked to make things better. them. For example, they’ve created a genetically modified tobacco plant that doesn’t lose as much water, so it doesn’t need to use as much water from the soil. Scientists are optimistic that the same process could be applied to food crops like wheat, corn or soybeans.
When you water your plants with a hosepipe, a lot of the water evaporatesWhen water is heated, usually by the sun, it turns into a gas and goes into the air and is lost. Now, your plant pots might be small but just imagine how much water is wasted if farmers do this to all their fields every single day!
Farmers are starting to use irrigationSupply of water to plants. Irrigation water can be pumped in or allowed to flow to the fields along pipes or open canals. The water may come from rivers, natural lakes, dams or wells. methods that work better and waste less water. One of the ways of doing this is by using drip irrigation.
Drip irrigation uses a tube with lots of little holes in it to deliver tiny drops of water to the base of a plant. These tubes can be set up to control the exact amount of water they should release, as well as when and where they should drip so that no water is wasted.
Unfortunately, drip irrigation still costs a lot to set up. Once it is set up though, the system tends to be less expensive to run than normal irrigation. So, to help farmers make this first step, governments can subsidiseWhen a government pays part of the cost of something. drip irrigation, so that it costs farmers a little less. Alternatively, it should be made easy for farmers to borrow money from the bank so that they can pay for the set-up costs.
For as long as humans have been around, we’ve been working out ways to get hold of clean water, so some of these techniques are quite ancient and they need a bit of help from modern technologyWhen knowledge from science is used to improve things.
A well is a hole drilled in the ground that goes below the water tableThe level below which the ground is filled with water. The depth of the water table varies depending on location.. Underground water is a very useful source of water because it is usually clean and safe, and, unlike seawater, it isn’t salty.
Wells have been used since the Neolithic era (7,000-10,000BC) and are so effective that they are still one of our first-choice water sources today. Instead of using buckets on ropes, which can be contaminated by mud and dirty hands, pumps are now used. Building a well is expensive – it costs a stonking £9,000 – so charities need your support to raise the funds!
In a water-scarce area, you can’t let a drop go to waste. people harvest rainwater by collecting rainwater from roofs, roads, parks and open grounds and then storing it in a tank.
Rainwater is some of the cleanest water that nature offers us. Rainwater harvesting systems only cost about £200-300. This is much cheaper than building a well but the people that need them most, are often living in extreme povertyA state of being very poor. This is why charities need your donations – a small donation can go such a long way to building a rainwater harvesting system that provides water for a family or community.
Scientists are developing technologies to clean our water and make it safe to use. Here are three examples:
The Ocean Clean Up Barrier is a long U-shaped barrier placed in the Pacific Ocean. It relies on the natural currents of the ocean to move plastic into the tip of the U-shape, where plastic can be stored. Once the system is full, the plastics are emptied onto a ship and brought to shore for recycling. The Ocean Clean Up Barrier expects to be able to remove an amazing 90% of floating ocean plastic by 2040!
The Janicki Omniprocessor turns sewer sludge into clean drinking water and ash that is free of germs. The great thing about the Janicki Omniprocessor is that it also produces electricity and safely gets rid of faeces. The first Janicki Omniprocessor was built in the African country of Senegal as a pilot projectWhen a project is first done on a small scale to check it works..
Reverse osmosis is a process used to desalinate (remove salt from) water so that countries that have coastlines but no freshwater can produce clean drinking water. In this process, seawater is forced through a membraneA thin layer that separates or connects different things. at high pressure. The membrane allows water to pass through but traps everything else (including salt and bacteria). Reverse osmosis is the most efficient desalination process. It generates up to 4.5 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternative processes.
Now that you understand a bit more about Clean Water and Sanitation, it’s time to make a difference. If you want to do something practical to help, the power is in your hands. Take a look at some ways you can take action right now.
Here are some amazing young people who cared about the water crisis and took action to make change happen. These change makers were all passionate about the same cause but used their unique skills to make change happen in different ways.
Everyone can help make a difference. Consider what your unique superpower might be. Are you someone with a strong voice who likes to spread awareness by talking to everyone you meet? Or do you prefer a behind the scenes approach – making sure that donations are collected to take to those in need?
Like all the important causes in our world, there is a huge amount to learn about the water crisis and how to solve it. If you want to find out more, here are some excellent further resources:
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