For decades, man believed at first naively then opportunistically that our streams, our rivers, our seas and our oceans could indefinitely absorb, digest and assimilate the exponential progression of our discharges and our waste. We know today that the limit has been reached and that we are now at an irreversible threshold.
"Water is essential to life on earth. For human populations and ecosystems to develop, water must be clean, stay clean and be accessible to all. "
Madame Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO,
Water is an essential component of life and our environment. The human body is 70% water, the seas and oceans cover more than 75% of the surface of our planet and more than 95% of the water on earth is unsuitable in its natural state for human consumption. This last figure alone brings all the social and economic issues related to water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one billion people have less than 20 liters of water a day (700 liters for a North American) and the absence of drinking water would cause the death of more than 6 million people.
A. Water Balance
According to the latest studies, the consumable water reserves follow a negative curve. Since 2010, the water balance has reached an alarming state, regardless of the country, regardless of whether it is industrialized or developing. Indeed, the initial problem of over-exploitation of our reserves has juxtaposed a more complex issue related to a qualitative degradation of the latter, through multi-factorial pollution. Industrial discharges, phytosanitary treatments, domestic discharges linked to overconsumption or population growth, intensive farming.
In France, more than 25% of rivers are classified as being of poor sanitary quality and there are more than 10,000 chemicals in European waters, some unidentified. The current lack of information and transparency on the chemicals used in our industries, coupled with the wild release of these substances into the environment, will be a major health challenge over the next 20 years.
B. Demographic Balance
With four births per second, there are nearly 244,000 more people every day on our planet. Added to this is an average life expectancy that is constantly increasing and currently at 64.3 years. The water consumption follows an irreversible exponential curve.
We were 1.76 billion people in 1900, we were 7.34 billion in 2015 (UN source) we will certainly be 9 billion in 2050. This progress weighs heavily on our current water reserves, with consumption needs that will gradually tend to become more homogenous and therefore increase considerably. Emerging countries (China, India) with the advent of middle-class numbers in hundreds of millions of people who legitimately aspire to modern comfort and accessibility to consumer goods and resources are competing with Western countries.
C. Domestic Water and Virtual Water
The assessment of the need for clean water for human societies must take into account the distinction between so-called domestic water and so-called virtual water. The quantity of virtual water being much higher than that of so-called domestic water.
Unlike domestic water, which is physical and therefore directly quantifiable by each user, virtual (or induced) water is hidden in the economic process of production and evolves proportionally to the needs of our consumer companies. This includes the water needed for the different phases of the production process of industrial and agricultural goods. When a country produces, imports and consumes, each actor virtually imports or consumes water.
Thus worldwide, the transfer of virtual water through trade in food alone, would represent approximately 385 billion m3 annually.
Some numbered amounts related to virtual water:
- 16,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef
- 11,000 liters to make jeans
- 4,000 liters to produce 1kg of rice
- 10,000 liters to play a game of golf in Florida
- 200 liters to obtain 1 liter of milk
- 34 liters to serve a cup of tea
D. Water Geopolitics
According to imminent geopolitical experts, many armed conflicts are under way or will be unleashed in the near future, for the takeover of energy resources such as oil and gas and vital resources such as arable land and consumable water. Water resources have been for many years and often in the utmost discretion at the center of national and transnational tensions.
Whether we are talking about industrialized, emerging or developing countries, water has become a strategic issue. It can be seen that in many countries the price of a liter of water can exceed that of a liter of gasoline. In this game, water is therefore more and more desired as are attempts to take control by powerful private or state interests.
Large food groups such as Nestlé or Danone buy multiple sources of fresh water in the world, in Africa, China, Brazil and in Pakistan. Apart from any legislative framework, these economic takeovers of vital economic resources are made for the benefit of multinationals too often not very concerned at all with the notion of the public's interest.
Some states, depending on their economic and military power also foresee a takeover of large water reserves. Some observers denounce planning, under cover of the fight against terrorism, a military takeover by the United States, one of the largest fresh water reserves on our planet, GUARANI AQUIFER.
"After oil, the United States is preparing to battle for water"
Adolfo Pérez ESQUIVEL, Nobel Peace Prize winner
E. Humanitarian Issue
The degradation of water quality has direct and indirect repercussions on human health.
This reality of multi-factorial origin represents a major obstacle to development.
Water as a vector of deadly or disabling diseases exacerbates the financial difficulties of already poor populations by removing or immobilizing active forces, which are essential for the financial support of local family units. As a result, the chances of these families being able to provide education for their children are disappearing, which reinforces the poverty cycle.
Clean water and modern sanitation are crucial for the development of many countries, especially for much of Africa.
Indeed, many diseases come directly from consumption or simply from the use of unsafe water used to drink or clean food. Cholera, typhoid and diarrhea are the most common. Added to this is the spread of indirect diseases such as malaria or yellow fever carried by insects colonizing and breeding in this untreated water.
In addition to the need to act on the control of our polluting discharges that artificially accelerate the depletion of consumable water, it is urgent, in parallel, to find new simple and sustainable solutions to overcome the shortcomings of current water supply sources. Today, nearly 900 million people do not have access to so-called safe water and nearly 50% of Africans travel more than 10 km each day to obtain drinking water.