Recently, the news that Cape Town was going to run out of drinking water for its inhabitants made shockwaves across the globe. The very idea that a modern city wouldn’t be able to provide water to its citizens seemed right out of some dystopian Philip K Dick novel. Unfortunately, that nightmarish scenario is set become a reality for 11 other cities, if this BBC report is to be believed. As mentioned in the same report, only 3 per cent of the 70 per cent water that covers the Earth’s surface is fresh. Even then, there is enough water to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared, as per the UN.
Billions of people don’t have regular access to clean drinking water which results in thousands of deaths due to waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery and typhoid. WHO notes that at least 2 billion people use a drinking-water source contaminated with faeces, and that by 2025 half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
Some of the world’s most populous cities like Sao Paulo, Beijing, Jakarta, Mexico City and Cairo are in danger of running out of drinking water in the near future. Then there are cities that one wouldn’t expect to be in the list, like Tokyo, London and Miami. Istanbul and Moscow are the other cities in the list with Bengaluru representing India. The erstwhile Garden City’s woes can be attributed to the new property developments that are putting additional pressure on already depleted water sources. The poorly planned infrastructure includes a creaking plumbing system and high levels of water pollution. Not a single lake in Bengaluru has suitable water for drinking or bathing.
One of the main reasons for this shortage is water pollution, which can make water unusable even for industrial purpose. Also, as per the UN, the global use of freshwater doubled between 1964 and 2014 because of population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation and increased production and consumption. However, it is farming that is the single biggest consumer of water globally (70 per cent), most of it for irrigation. In the global North, though, industry accounts for more than half of freshwater supply. In cities like Jakarta where most residents don’t have access to piped water, people resort to illegally digging wells that drains out the already stressed underground aquifers, aggravating a bad situation to dangerous levels. Without a drastic overhaul of how we manage this precious resource, expect more cities to join this infamous list.