Water resources are essential to public health, human settlement, and societal 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.
The global water supply situation relates to population growth and associated problems, the impact of human activity on the water cycle, public health issues, and drinking water shortage. Moreover, changes in the water supply and its scarcity are ecological trends that impact societies by way of business activities. The sufficiency of the water supply influences the performance of food-service companies, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Starbucks. These firms use water for food and beverage preparation and production, as well as the sanitation of their facilities. Also, water impacts the availability and cost of food and beverage products from retail companies, like Walmart, Costco, and Amazon and its subsidiary, Whole Foods. Moreover, food manufacturers, such as PepsiCo and Unilever, depend on water supply adequacy for their production operations. Thus, economies depend on the availability and adequacy of clean fresh water.
Population Growth and Water Supply Problems
Developing programs for adequate water supply requires understanding the role that population growth plays in the rise and extent of water supply problems. In influencing water supply problems, population growth has the role of determining the demand for water and water consumption. As the 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 a rapid increase in consumer demand for water because of high population growth, especially due to internal migration. Thus, as population grows, the stress on the water supply increases. This condition leads to shortages in the supply of clean and fresh water.
Ways Humans Negatively Impact the Water Cycle
Human activity affects the water cycle in multiple ways, although the following are notable:
- Increasing consumption
- Diversions and massive changes in bodies of water
- Water pollution
Increasing Consumption. The increasing consumption of water comes with population growth. 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 disruptions in the water cycle.
Water Pollution. Water pollution is a factor that affects the 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
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
Safety. Safety is always a concern when it comes to fresh drinking water. However, not all fresh water 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 fresh water may be accessible to a population, this does not mean that the fresh water can be used for drinking. The water supply might still contain harmful microbial agents or substances. Poor sanitation leads to fresh water not suitable for drinking. The lack of proper equipment and machinery for sanitation makes fresh water unsuitable for the water supply for drinking and household needs.
Accessibility. Accessibility is another 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 handwashing and housecleaning difficult. 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 fresh water 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, the shortage of clean water occurs in many areas around the world.
Droughts and water rerouting, as well as seawater seepage can render freshwater unfit for human consumption. This condition puts more stress 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 the population grows, so does the demand for food. To produce more food, more farms are developed, and these farmlands require large amounts of water. This condition increases the 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.
- Lifeng, L. (2023, Mar 21). Water scarcity means less water for agriculture production which in turn means less food available, threatening food security and nutrition. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- McNabb, D. E., & Swenson, C. R. (2023). From Water Stress to a Water Crisis. In America’s Water Crises: The Impact of Drought and Climate Change (pp. 29-53). Cham: Springer Nature Switzerland.
- U.S. Department of the Interior – Interior Department Announces Next Steps to Protect the Stability and Sustainability of Colorado River Basin.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Ground Water.
- United Nations – Water – at the center of the climate crisis.
- Zhong, R., Chen, A., Zhao, D., Mao, G., Zhao, X., Huang, H., & Liu, J. (2023). Impact of international trade on water scarcity: An assessment by improving the Falkenmark indicator. Journal of Cleaner Production, 385, 135740.