For over a century it has become increasingly apparent that while the global freshwater supply may be more than adequate to serve the current as well as the global society’s future water demands, its spatial and temporal distributions are not. According to a study by Webster and Benfield, currently, there are global regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Asia where the freshwater resources are significantly inadequate to meet, domestic, development, environmental as well as economic needs (21). In such regions, the inadequacy of clean water for human consumption or sanitation needs directly contribute to constraining in human health and productivity; subsequently, in the long run, this has affected the region’s economy. Globally the demographics, economic as well as the technological trends have seen significant acceleration as more knowledge has been applied to modify the environment in the quest for matching demand. As cited by Webster and Benfield, the human race has become the primary influencer of environmental change; however, most of what has been done plays against the natural balance of the environment (32). Since the turn of the century, the issues of water management as well as pollution have been hot topics discussed by nations, corporations, as well as individuals. Nonetheless, despite the issue being on the mainstream platforms of global attention how far has the current global society come towards improving the water situation that poses a potential danger to humankind.
For years, it has always been known that the amount of fresh water available on earth is enough to cater for all society needs. However, its spatial and temporal distributions have left areas in Africa and parts of Asia with a water problem. When discussing issues relating to water management in Sub-Saharan Africa where thousands of lives are lost the premise held is lack of storage. Though this might be true, the biggest influence that makes these places susceptible to droughts is climate change in, particularly prolonged droughts. Additionally, the little remaining sources of water that can be used to help are currently contaminated due to human activities.
Image1. Water cycle
Image above is highlights the water cycle, which is defined as the natural process that water, is introduced into environment through evaporation and condensation. Freshwater sources like rivers as well as lakes depend on this cycle; however, human activity has greatly influenced the entire process.
Since the turn of the century, their impact on human activity has become more apparent. According to Webster and Benfield modernization, industrialization, and a continued need for more resources to meet a variety of human needs have and continue to impact the global environment, including the climate (56). Subsequently, such impacts have influenced the amounts as well as the spatial or temporal distribution, particularly when considering watersheds as well as its runoff. For instance, increased industrialization has seen a number of industries develop factories that have polluted the air significantly. Acid rain is a consequence of air pollution from factories. Acid rain influence the quality of water and thus causes a disparity in the supply and quantity of available fresh water (Schindler 67).
Coupled with the alterations in the landscape caused by the direct influence of urbanization and industrialization in form of waste discharge, sewage flow, as well as other influences such as chemicals from farms used as fertilizers it is evident that the water quality of fresh water has been altered momentously.
Image 2. Water Pollution
Water pollution is defined as the change in water quality influenced by any chemical, physical, or biological aspects thus making it harmful for any living thing that drinks, uses or lives in it.
The image above is a graphical illustration of water pollution on a global scale. The image highlights on how the quality of water in Oceans, Seas, Lakes, rivers, and ground water are negatively affected by pollutants from different point sources. Form the image the different types of pollutants that contaminate water quality and supply can be, these can be categorized as:
- biological and
- radioactive contaminants
Over the years, humankind has become overly dependent on water not only for consumption but also for economic well-being. In doing so most societies have affected the quality of water through a variety of ways primarily through waste disposal in both the industrial and urban sectors.
Water bodies such as lakes, oceans, rivers, and ponds have a natural way of dealing with pollutants particularly through hosting a variety of microorganism that feeds on any foreign body introduced into the water system (Bailey, et al., 43) However, currently, industries have been discharging raw waste to the water bodies in significant amounts. The effects of such pollutions are significantly negative to the animals as well as individuals who are in close proximity to polluted water bodies. For instance, in early March 2013, about 16,000 pig carcasses were found floating on the Huangpu River, which supplies the city of Shanghai, China. The primary reason for these massive deaths as cited by Bailey, et al., was caused by the toxic content drained into the river by a variety of industries that had earlier been banned from operations due to their negative influence to the environment (46).
Another aspect regarding organic pollution is the effector rapid urbanization. According to a study by Novotny major cities in the US, Europe, as well as Asia drain up to three metric tons of untreated sewage into the main water bodies within the cities residential areas (pp-72-75). Though it may seem that human waste may not be as toxic as the industrial wastes, it should be taken to note that there are a variety of chemicals such as detergents that are used within the household which increase the harm of raw sewage on water bodies.
The biggest inorganic pollutant that is directly influenced by industrialization and urbanization are plastic containers. On the shores of most lakes, rivers, as well as oceans, are plastic bottles, carrier bags as well as other plastic parts such as car parts.
Over the years, it has become more evident that plastic materials are the most common pollutants that wash up on the ocean or lake beaches as well as riverbanks. According to Sartor and Gail there are various reasons for this; however, three standouts as primary, firstly plastic has become one of the most common manufacturing materials since the 20th century (46). From bottles, carrier bags, automobile parts, to a textile material plastic is used for making virtually each and every sort of manufactured object. Its light weight allows it to float easily on water thus it can travel large distances; for instance across the oceans. As cited by Sartor and Gail most of what is manufactured using plastics does not decompose naturally in the environment, subsequently, pollutants can survive in the marine environment virtually an infinite amount of time (56). Though the dangers of plastics are dissimilar to those of toxic industrial poisonous chemicals, they, however, pose a different kind of threat to water quality. Plastic pollutants are a known danger to seabirds, fish, as well as other marine creatures. For instance, plastic fishing lines plus other debris are known to strangle or choke fish a factor that is identified as, ghost fishing (Warren 26). As more fish are killed by a large amount of plastic waste the microbes that usually are fish food will increase substantially causing an imbalance in the quality of water available. A study by biologist Warren, Charles conducted along a 1.5-mile length of Pitcairn islands in the South Pacific recorded an estimated thousand pieces of plastic bags, 268 pieces of plastic bottles from various beverage companies across the globe, 71 plastic pieces from the automobile and other manufacturing sectors, as well as two dozen dolls heads (Warren pp 62—70)
Since the turn of the century, the human need for electric power has seen an increase in the use of nuclear power. Subsequently, over the same period scientists such as Covich, Margaret, and Todd have identified an increase in radioactive contamination within waterways close to nuclear power plants (47). The primary reason for this is water from close proximate water bodies are used in various parts of the plants including the cooling of nuclear reactors. Currently, as indicated by Novotny the most notable players in radioactive water pollution are two factories located in Europe particularly in the UK (Sellafield on the north-west coast of Britain) and France (Cap La Hague) (67). Radioactive spills to active waterways hold a significant amount of threat to people who depend on water from the contaminated source for domestic uses as well as wild or domesticated animals. Additionally, the discharge of radioactive waste material or contaminated water into seas or oceans is significantly dangerous considering current carry contaminants across the globe. A study conducted by the Norwegian government indicated that the poor radioactive material disposal program at Sellafield led to an increase in water radiation levels by an estimated 6-10 times normal readings. Currently, both the Irish as well as the Norwegian authorities continue to advocate for the closure of the plant.
When issues of oil pollution are discussed, most individuals recount the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 where 4.9 million barrels (210,000,000 U.S. gallons) of oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico (Webster and Benfield 78). Over the history of deep-sea oil drilling there have been major oil spill incidences, since the 1969 blowout in Santa Barbara, California, there have been an estimated 87 other major incidences that have let out about 3.2 million barrels of oil into the Oceans, seas, as well as lakes throughout the globe (Bailey, et al., 99). However, yet these disastrous accidents represent only a fraction of all the oil-based pollutants introduced into waterways. According to a study by Novotny approximate oil spills from deep-sea drills as well as tanker accidents only account for 72% of the oil pollution in oceans. From the study, it was indicated that approximately about 18% of oil pollutants are introduced into waterways from routine shipping and from the oil people pour down drains on land (Bailey, et al., 112). In 2017 an estimated 1,200 barrels of oil were introduced into fresh waterways globally from industrial as well as residential outlets. The major victims of oil pollution are animals such as seabirds, fish, and other water-based mammals such as sea otters (Schindler 67).
In summary, though the quality of freshwater or human use has always been more than adequate; however, due to climate changes as well as water contamination this premise has significantly changed. Massive scales of industrialization, urbanization, and general economic growth has seen aching in climate patterns a factor that has influenced fresh water supply from the rain. Additionally, the groundwater sources are currently at the risk of pollution a factor that underlines the first statement in this paragraph. The significance of water in daily life cannot be understated; currently, thousands of individuals lose their lives due to a lack of water while other spend a fortunate have clean water in their homes or offices. There is a clear need to change how society influences the quality and amount of water available.
Bailey, Robert C., Richard H. Norris, and Trefor B. Reynoldson. “Bioassessment of freshwater ecosystems.” Bioassessment of Freshwater Ecosystems. Springer, Boston, MA, 2014. 1-15. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4419-8885-0_1
Covich, Alan P., Margaret A. Palmer, and Todd A. Crowl. “The role of benthic invertebrate species in freshwater ecosystems: zoobenthic species influence energy flows and nutrient cycling.” BioScience 49.2 (1999): 119-127. https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/49/2/119/239602
Novotny, Vladimir. Water quality: prevention, identification and management of diffuse pollution. Van Nostrand-Reinhold Publishers, 2014. http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/id/eprint/3980/
Sartor, James D., and Gail B. Boyd. Water pollution aspects of street surface contaminants. Vol. 81. US Government Printing Office, 2012. https://books.google.co.ke/books?hl=en&lr=&id=LNZl_mETHd0C&oi=fnd&pg=PR12&dq=water+pollution+&ots=Ux-oCASsE9&sig=cs12HTcWLPsOSVp3e9A1IQ2KJP0&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=water%20pollution&f=false
Schindler, David W. “Effects of acid rain on freshwater ecosystems.” Science 239.4836 (2018): 149-157. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/239/4836/149
Warren, Charles E. “Biology and water pollution control.” (2011). https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED070670
Webster, J. R., and E. F. Benfield. “Vascular plant breakdown in freshwater ecosystems.” Annual review of ecology and systematics 17.1 (2016): 567-594. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.es.17.110186.003031?journalCode=ecolsys.1