Water and Vulnerable Communities

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Connie Carrigan, SSND

Climate change is perhaps the greatest threat facing the global water system, simply because it is composed of different threats.  The surface of our Blue Planet is made up of 71% water.  Only 3% of this is fresh.  A staggering amount of water also exists beneath the Earth's surface. When not interfered with by outside influences, nature maintains a perfect balance.  Humans though, do interfere with nature, especially water. We burn fossil fuels causing dry areas to become drier and other areas to flood. We destroy our healthy ecosystems thereby depleting groundwater. We pollute our waterways and endanger our marine life.  

Our water systems are in a dismal state of disrepair and we wastewater. How acutely this affects you probably depends on where you live. Lack of clean water and sanitation creates problems that span around the world, from urban households to rural farming. “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity.”(U.N.2002) Clean water and sanitation should not be determined by a person’s income, education level, or where you live.  Unfortunately, it very often is.  

About a third of the world’s freshwater comes from the underground aquifers, vital to agriculture and industry.  As people with higher incomes demand more products like meat, and quality vegetables, more underground aquifers are drained by irrigation.  Fracking meets the demand for more oil but the water needed in the process drains as well as pollutes aquifers.  In many cities, ancient infrastructure and leaking pipes wastewater.  

As water scarcity concerns grow, water-related industries continue to expand ranging from desalination to dam construction to bottled water. Efforts to privatize and sell water resources have grown. Meanwhile, as the bottled water industry grows, millions of people are living with a lack of water or polluted water.  Overwhelming issues are facing the global water supply e.g. plastic pollution, sewage entering drinking water, and groundwater depletion.  Communities around the world fear lead contamination and the very real possibility that the “tap will run dry.”   The most vulnerable communities suffer the most.  Persons who are poor will cut back on food to be able to buy bottled water.

Rising temperatures and drought exist in many places on the planet, while other areas experience increased rainfall and flooding.  Clouds are moving away from the equator toward the poles depriving the countries near the equator of valuable rainwater.  Distance impedes easy water access near the equator; many youth, especially girls, have frequent school absences due to the time required for daily water collection.  Closer to the poles there are more intense storms and rising sea levels causing severe flooding. These problems are universal, but mostly poorer communities suffer since many live in vulnerable areas and the capacity to address these challenges is limited or obstructed by governments.

The dynamic between water and vulnerable communities illustrates evidence of greed, profit, privilege and a lack of respect for our earth and its inhabitants.  While some people benefit, others suffer.  Everything created has rights, but when we look more closely that is not how life is.  For some to succeed others usually lose.  However, access to water as well as justice is not always a certainty.

Consider these actions:

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