Pictured, the ground floor of the "Vasco da Gama" Shopping Mall, Lisbon - photograph by MAKE, personal collection.
The world is intensely preparing for a water crisis, the most important resource for human life. The signs, on a continental and global level, that there is a water problem are increasingly clear.
A report published by the European Environmental Agency (AEM) is informing us that only 40% of the total of lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal waters in the EU are in "a very good" ecological state. On the other hand, a report issued by the United Nations this year announces that by 2050 about 5 billion people will be living in areas with low access to water.
Among the bad news there is also a good one, Romania is doing very well from that point of view. The surface waters in the Scandinavian Peninsula, Estonia, Slovakia, Romania are in a better ecological state than the regions in Central and Western Europe (especially Germany, Belgium, Holland), where the density of the population and intensive farming are to blame for low water quality, the study reports. In most of the EU member states, mercury (present in the past in thermometers, batteries and paints) and cadmium (present in phosphated fertilizers and in metallurgy) are to blame for the most frequently encountered cases of chemical pollution.
The European environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella claims that there are several steps to take to remedy the situation: "Thanks to the implementation of the European legislation concerning the quality of water in the member states, the quality of sweet water in Europe is improving progressively, but there are many things to be done before all the lakes, rivers, coastal waters and aquifers end up in a good state. The fight against the pollution caused by agriculture, industry and individuals requires shared efforts from all the beneficiaries of water in Europe". The underground water sources are still, globally, in a better state - three quarters of them have a "good chemical state", according to the AEM. But certain sites continue to be contaminated by the nitrates originating from agricultural canals, "saline intrusions" and the "infiltration of some dangerous chemical products".
Three years ago, the estimates of the UN indicated that by 2020, water consumption would increase 40%, and by 2025, two out of three people would be living under "stress" due to lack of water. Africa, the Middle East and especially Southern Asia would be the most affected. Romania is not part of the areas with a potential deficit of water in the next 30 years. Of course, there won't be problems if we know how to take care of that resource.
Audrey Azoulay, general director of the UN for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) says that urgent action needs to be taken: "If we don't do anything, by 2050 approximately five billion people will be living in areas with low access to water". To manage the increasing demand for water, this year's UN report recommends "working with nature rather than against it" to allow a more efficient, profitable and healthier use of water, both for the population, as well as the environment.
The UN report contains some data concerning the past, present and future, which are a cause for concern. Since 1900, approximately 64 - 71% of the water surfaces of the world have been destroyed as a result of human activities. Approximately 80% of industrial and urban waste water is released into the environment without being treated, representing a major factor in the process for the deterioration of the quality of water on a global level, with a harmful impact on health and ecosystems. In the world, 3.6 billion people live in areas at risk of limited access to water, for at least one month a year, and almost three quarters of them are in Asia. That number could reach 4.8 billion - 5.7 billion people by 2050. Approximately 30% of the global population lives in areas regularly affected by floods or droughts. It is estimated that the number of people exposed to the risk of floods will increase from 1.2 billion currently to approximately 1.6 billion in 2050. Approximately 1.8 billion people are affected by soil degradation, desertification and drought.
A report of the World Bank, published in 2015, warns that global warming will dramatically exacerbate poverty around the globe, harvests will be affected, which will threaten the food security of million of people.
Over the last years, approximately 70 important rivers all over the world have dried up due to the irrigation systems and excessive consumption. Unfortunately, bad news on the topic keep coming, glaciers in the Himalaya and Tibet will disappear by 2100 at the current pace of melting. The increasingly higher needs of humanity also mean increasingly larger needs for water. A ton of steel needs 20 cubic meters of water, a ton of paper - 200 cubic meters of water, a kilo of rice needs 5000 kilos of water, a hamburger - 250 liters, a glass of orange juice - 850 liters.
According to UN data, in the beginning of this year, no less than 1.1 billion people were living in precarious conditions of hygiene due to lack of water, and the number has been constantly rising and dramatically. According to BBC, Cape Town is the first significant city of the world to run out of water.
The situation is more serious than we want to admit.
Dna Nicolaie (translated by Cosmin Ghidovean)