Why is there a lack of water

Water shortage

The blue planet

If you look at the earth from space, it becomes clear why it is called the "Blue Planet". About 70 percent of the earth's surface is covered with water. However, 97.5 percent of the huge water masses are in the oceans. They are salty and cannot be used by the majority of living things.

Of the remaining 2.5 percent fresh water, more than two thirds are bound in the glacier masses and in the permafrost soil. This means that only 0.8 percent of all water on earth can be freely used by humans, most of it in the form of groundwater. The rest is divided between rivers and lakes.

But even this comparatively small amount should actually be sufficient for all people on earth - despite the steady population growth, since the freely available water in principle remains constant. This has to do with the water cycle, a constant system of evaporation and condensation.

High cultures defy scarcity

When humans were still hunters and gatherers, water consumption was not a big issue for them. It was only when people settled down that procedures had to be developed to ensure the water supply for agriculture, livestock and the population. The early advanced civilizations of the Egyptians and Sumerians even settled in rather arid areas.

However, they developed sophisticated systems in order to be able to use the water of the rivers Nile, Euphrates and Tigris on a permanent basis. At that time, the number of people was still so low that everyone could be adequately supplied with water. That shouldn't change in the next millennia either.

The most important turning point in the water supply only marked the beginning of industrialization in the 18th century. In addition to agriculture, there was now another economic sector with an immensely high water consumption. Due to the greatly improved health and hygiene conditions, the population - and thus also the water consumption - rose sharply.

How we use water

Today, the lion's share of the world's water needs still goes to agriculture. The world's growing population must be fed. After agriculture, industry consumes most of the water, followed by energy. The consumption of drinking and sanitary water is comparatively low and, according to calculations, will not be of great importance in the future either.

In agriculture, on the other hand, a significant increase in demand is to be expected, especially when you consider that water consumption is increasing about twice as fast as the world population. In the densely populated countries such as China and India in particular, increasing prosperity is expected in the future - and increasing prosperity also means increasing water consumption.

In addition, in many arid regions of the world, new agricultural areas that require intensive irrigation have to be developed. If significant amounts of water continue to be wasted here, there will be conflicts over the use of this precious water in the future.

Dwindling groundwater

There are many examples of excessive water wastage. Some arise out of thoughtlessness, while others are due to pure greed for profit or the lack of sufficient water resources. Many countries in the world are attacking their groundwater reserves of the future.

In addition to the large Asian states of India, China and Pakistan, this also happens in the southwest of the USA. In this region with little rainfall, intensive agriculture is practiced despite the lack of water, which requires an enormous amount of groundwater, especially in years with little rain.

In the rapidly growing Mexico City, there are already major difficulties in supplying all households with sufficient drinking water. Since the wells have dried up in many places, entire parts of the city have to be supplied with rationed water from tankers in summer.

Yemen has a homemade problem. In this traditionally very arid country, a large part of the precious water is used for the cultivation of the cath plant. This everyday drug, which can be found everywhere, not only paralyzes Yemeni society, but also the local agriculture.

Thoughtless waste of water

But not only is the groundwater used excessively, the water from rivers and lakes is sometimes too heavily tapped. The best example of this is the Aral Sea in Central Asia. What was once the fourth largest lake on earth is now just a shadow of itself.

As early as the 1930s, large amounts of water had been withdrawn from its two tributaries to irrigate huge cotton fields in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The result: the lake has shrunk dramatically and the formerly weak salinization has increased sharply. In addition, it is extremely polluted by the introduction of pesticides for decades. According to experts, at most a small part of the Aral Sea can still be saved.

In addition to agriculture and the supply of drinking water, tourism also plays a role in the waste of water. The entire Mediterranean area is actually too dry to supply the masses of travelers with sufficient water - especially for golf courses that can be played all year round.

For example, Mallorca is supplied with water from tankers from the mainland in particularly dry summers. Even the supposedly water-rich Alpine region is not immune to waste. The snow cannons for ski tourism in particular attack the water reserves of the Alps excessively.

Ways out of the crisis

In order to avoid major conflicts over the coveted raw material in the future, new strategies for water supply must be developed. One measure could be improved rainwater storage. In the Mediterranean countries in particular, the traditional way of dealing with cisterns that collected rainwater for centuries has been forgotten.

In regions near the coast, seawater desalination plants could alleviate the shortage. In many regions of the Third World, however, these very expensive systems can only be installed with massive financial injections from the industrialized countries. The Balearic island of Mallorca has been using desalination plants since 2010 to get the bottlenecks under control in the summer months.

Better recycle wastewater

An entirely realistic undertaking for many countries could be improved wastewater treatment. What is already working well in Germany cannot be taken for granted, especially in emerging countries and the Third World.

In India, for example, untreated household and industrial water is used on a large scale to irrigate the fields. In doing so, they contaminate both the crops and the groundwater. Purified wastewater, on the other hand, can not only be used for irrigation, but also as drinking water.

If all else fails, there is still the scenario of transporting water in pipelines from rainy regions to dry areas.

And Turkey and Israel have long thought about pumping water from the Turkish rivers to the Middle East. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stopped these considerations in 2010 because of political tensions between the two countries.

Such pipelines are still a utopia, but they too could make an important contribution to global water exchange in the future.