We live in a watery world, but climate change and population growth are leading the planet toward a water crisis. Humans will have to find smart ways to avoid wasting water.
Earth has 326 quintillion gallons of water. But less than 1% of it is available for humans to drink or use. Most of the world's H2O is salty ocean water or frozen polar ice.
Everyone needs safe drinking water, but about 1.1 billion people have no access to clean water. By 2050, the world's population could grow from 6.7 billion to more than 9 billion. All of those people will need water to drink, to grow crops and to produce energy.
Because of climate change, some areas of the world are growing drier. The total area of the Earth's surface classified as very dry has doubled since the 1970s. The combination of climate change and increased demand is pushing the world toward a crisis over water. "You do the math, and it gets a little scary," says Stuart Minchin, a water expert in Australia.
Water is wasted in both rich and poor countries. The precious resource is misused in industry, in farming and in homes. Peter Gleick is head of the Pacific Institute, an environmental group in Oakland, California. He says it's time for bold steps to use less water. "We're waking up," he says. "But not fast enough."A Long Dry Spell
Since 2002, Australia has been in the grip of the worst drought in its recorded history. In the Murray-Darling river basin, in southern Australia, farmers have been hit hard. They are unable to irrigate their fields well enough. Crop production is down.
The Australian government is improving the nation's water-use habits. It has launched a $1.3 billion project to improve Australia's irrigation system. "It's extracting the most benefit we can from water we have," says Murray Smith, who heads the project in northern Victoria state.
Australians have serious water worries, but it could be worse. They don't have to fear that when they turn on the tap, nothing will come out.
That's the case in India. New Delhi, the capital, supplies less water than its citizens require, by about 200 million gallons a day. Many go without clean water for days. "Every morning when I get up, my main worry is water," says one woman. She keeps a locked 265-gallon water-storage tank near her apartment.Failure Is Not An Option
The 1.9 million people who live in Las Vegas, Nevada, have to watch their water use. The area receives just four inches of rain per year. Each resident uses 165 gallons of water a day, on average. Most of that water comes from a reservoir called Lake Mead. The reservoir is an artificial lake, created when the Hoover Dam was built, in 1935. Because of increased demand and long periods of drought, Mead's water level is declining.
City leaders have put in place tough measures to conserve water. Users pay a steep price for it. Homeowners who waste water are given large fines. The measures are working. Las Vegas has grown by more than 300,000 people since 2002. But it uses less water today than it did seven years ago. "Failure is not an option," says Patricia Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The same is true everywhere in the world.
Spanish TranslationBRYAN WALSH