Water Supply, Shortage, Human Impact & Public Health

Water supply and resources, fresh drinking water shortage, public health, water cycle
Water supply issues: the role of population growth in water supply problems, the ways humans negatively impact the water cycle, public health concerns on fresh drinking water, and clean water shortage. (Photo: Public Domain)

Water resources are essential for public health, and human settlement and development. However, water supply problems abound worldwide. There are issues concerning the adequacy of water resources to support human settlements. There are rampant safety, sanitation and accessibility issues in water supply systems in many countries. These water supply problems are a result of various influences, such as the pattern of human settlement and urbanization. Technology adoption and political commitment also determine the likelihood and duration of these problems. These conditions highlight the need for better policies and programs to ensure a clean, safe, adequate, and accessible water supply.

This article examines the global water supply situation in terms of population growth and related problems, impact of human activity on the water cycle, public health issues, and drinking water shortage.

Population Growth and Water Supply Problems

Developing programs for adequate water supply requires understanding the role population growth plays in water supply problems. In influencing water supply problems, population growth has the role of determining the demand for water and water consumption. As population grows, the demand for water also grows.

In the United States, urban and industrial centers have the highest demand for water. These areas are also the ones most at risk of water shortage. In China, Beijing is experiencing rapid increase in demand for water because of high population growth, especially due to internal migration. Thus, as population grows, the demand on the water supply increases. This condition leads to shortages of water supply.

Ways Humans Negatively Impact the Water Cycle

Human activity affects the water cycle. Three ways humans negatively impact the water cycle are as follows:

  • Increasing consumption
  • Diversions and massive changes in bodies of water
  • Water pollution

Increasing Consumption. The increasing consumption of water comes with increasing population. This means that more water is drawn from bodies of freshwater to support the water needs of the population. As a result, less water becomes available for animals and plants. Humans reduce the natural water supply or transport water to other places.

Diversions and Massive Changes. Dams, hydroelectric power plants, and the rerouting of rivers and waterways lead to significant changes in the water cycle because the natural route of water is disturbed. These changes lead to water supply issues and disruption of the water cycle.

Water Pollution. Water pollution is a significant factor that affects water supply and the water cycle. Water pollution leads to changes in the composition of water. Solutes and contaminants lead to changes in the characteristics of water, such as its boiling point. These changes disrupt the water supply for animals and plants. Human consumption of water for drinking, irrigation, sanitation and other uses can also disrupt the water cycle.

Public Health Concerns on Fresh Drinking Water Worldwide

Water affects public health. The condition and quality of the water supply is a major factor in sanitation and disease control. Worldwide public health concerns related to fresh drinking water are as follows:

  • Safety from toxic substances
  • Sanitation
  • Accessibility

Safety. Safety is always a concern when it comes to fresh drinking water supply. However, not all freshwater can be used for drinking. Some freshwater sources contain substances that are harmful to humans. For example, freshwater mixed with effluence from a mining plant is rendered unsuitable for human consumption. The resulting contaminated water supply contains toxic substances from the mining plant.

Sanitation. Water supply issues are linked to sanitation. Even though freshwater may be accessible to a population, this does not mean that the freshwater can be used for drinking. The water supply might still contain harmful microbial agents or substances. Poor sanitation, especially in poor countries and rural areas, leads to freshwater not suitable for drinking. The lack of proper equipment and machinery for sanitation makes freshwater unsuitable as the water supply for drinking and other needs.

Accessibility. Accessibility is another important public health concern when it comes to water supply for drinking and related uses. In many developing countries in Asia, water is not as accessible as it is in the United States or Europe. People in crowded urban centers of some Asian countries sometimes need to get water from a long distance. The lack of easy access to water makes hand washing and housecleaning less preferred by the people. The inaccessibility of the water supply increases the risk and spread of disease.

Shortage of Clean Water for the World’s Population

There is a shortage of clean water supply for the world’s population to consume because only one percent of the total water in the world is available as freshwater suitable for drinking and household use. This figure does not change much, such that there is a scarcity of water in the world. As the world population grows, the demand for water increases. However, the natural water supply does not grow commensurately. As a result, shortage of clean water occurs in many areas around the world.

In addition, problems like droughts and water rerouting, as well as seawater seepage can render freshwater unfit for human consumption. This condition puts more demand on the limited water supply, leading to even more shortage risk.

Water shortage is also partly due to the increasing use of water in farm irrigation. As population grows, so does the demand for food. To produce more food, more farms are made and these farmlands require large amounts of water. This condition increases demand for irrigation water in addition to the increasing demand for drinking water. Thus, the water supply is thinly spread.

The combined effect of these factors leads to water shortage. The case of urban centers is even worse. High population densities in urban areas lead to higher demand for drinking water, but the water supply remains limited.

References
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2013). Water Scarcity.
  • Gohari, A., Eslamian, S., Mirchi, A., Abedi-Koupaei, J., Bavani, A. M., & Madani, K. (2013). Water transfer as a solution to water shortage: a fix that can backfire. Journal of Hydrology491, 23-39.
  • Siems, R., Sahin, O., Talebpour, M. R., Stewart, R., & Hopewell, M. (2013, June). Energy intensity of decentralized water supply systems utilized in addressing water shortages. In European Water Resources Association 8th International Conference (pp. 26-29).
  • U.S. Department of the Interior (2003). Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2015). Water Supply in the U.S.
  • United Nations (2015). Water Scarcity.
  • Van Leeuwen, C. J., Frijns, J., van Wezel, A., & van de Ven, F. H. (2012). City blueprints: 24 indicators to assess the sustainability of the urban water cycle. Water resources management26(8), 2177-2197.
  • World Water Council (2015). Water Crisis.
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