World’s water crises

 By Michelle Leslie

Cape Town, South Africa is looking to the sky for answers…

The threat of living without water is overshadowing life. A multi-year drought has stricken the region, wiping out orchards and plunging water reserves. Economic uncertainty looms. As does “Day Zero” — the day when the amount of water contained in the dam falls beneath 13 percent and the taps turn off, allowing Cape Town to run dry. If “Day Zero” happens, it will put the city into the history books as the first place in the world to turn off its water supply. A humanitarian and environmental crisis, affecting millions of people; and a change in the weather forecast appears to be the only solution.
The scenes from Cape Town paint a vivid picture of life without water. A sign sprouting up from cracked land states, “Food Grows Where Water Flows,” highlighting the urgency of the situation.

Imagine a world without water

It’s a startling fact. Over a billion people don’t have access to clean water. This is a number that could reach over 5 billion by 2050 thanks in part to the pressures of climate change. An increase in global temperatures and a greater frequency of precipitation variability are two factors that will impact the world’s water supply.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that “of all sectoral water demands, the irrigation sector will be affected most strongly by climate change, as well as by changes in the effectiveness of irrigation methods.” Climate change will not only change the effectiveness of irrigation methods, but it will also increase the demand for irrigated water, the IPCC found.
Cape Town isn’t alone. Nigerians are also feeling the effects of a water-strained society. Billions of dollars are needed to address sanitation issues; two million people have already had to leave in search of water, and millions more are desperate for aid.
A situation further exacerbated by terror. Militant organizations based in northeastern Nigeria have destroyed three-quarters of the water infrastructure in the country as part of an armed insurgency. Over the years, it has aggravated chronic poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition with the most affected populations living in distress and without access to basic social services. Add to this the fact that Lake Chad, once the sixth largest lake in the world, is drying up. The levels in the basin have dried up by approximately 90 percent over the last four decades. What was once the main source of water for millions of Africans is slowly disappearing.

It’s clear something must be done

Enter Eni, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a collaborative agreement to help the people of Nigeria by providing access to clean water; ensuring healthy populations, and the hope for stability and peace to the region.
“The Access to Water Project will allow Eni to strengthen its support to local development and contribute to the well-being of the communities impacted by the North-East crisis,” said Alberto Piatti, Eni’s EVP for Responsible and Sustainable Enterprise, “It also addresses the Nigerian Federal Government’s request to the (oil and gas) sector to provide support in alleviating the suffering of the victims in the North-East crisis, by launching sustainable intervention programs with a positive impact on (people’s) lives.”
Most of our planet is water, and most of the world’s water supply is found in our oceans. The remaining 4.5 percent of all water on Earth is locked up in glaciers, lakes, rivers and underground. In fact, there is more freshwater beneath the surface of the earth than on it.
The Access to Water project will provide clean and safe drinking water to affected Nigerian communities by tapping into water supplies beneath the Earth’s surface. After identifying suitable locations, boreholes will be drilled and powered by photovoltaic systems. The boreholes will provide communities access to water for both domestic needs and irrigation.
The first initiative of its kind, this project will help address the needs of the populations most affected, giving opportunities for community development and long-term sustainability in the region. The agreement, in partnership with FAO, will run for three years.
“This is an opportunity to enhance the role that companies can play in multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development” according to Alberto Piatti.
This sustainable intervention program could also provide opportunities to other drought-stricken regions. And as residents in Cape Town look to the sky, perhaps one day they can look beneath the ground to find solutions to their own water woes.

READ MORE: Solutions for water scarcity by Criselda Diala-McBride

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.