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Water on Earth

Welcome back to MJ Aquablog! In the previous blogs I introduced you to what makes water (as a molecule) unique and how this uniqueness is a key to life as we know it. Now it’s time to start discussing the water on our planet and especially drinking water which plays even more crucial role in our day-to-day lives!

The Earth is called a blue planet. No wonder there because vast blue oceans cover about 71% of the Earth’s surface, plus all the lakes and rivers. There is definitely a huge amount of water on Earth but we cannot really drink it all. 96.5 % of all water our planet has, is saline, thus undrinkable. We are left with mere 3.5% of freshwater and even that has a catch. We have to count with the fact that the vast majority of freshwater is somehow inaccessible, either locked up in ice on the poles or underground. The main sources of freshwater for humanity are lakes and rivers but they only make about 0.0075% of all water on Earth!

You may be thinking now...what about melting ice on the poles or just filtering the saline water to get more drinking water? Well, I wish it would be that easy. Desalination of water is incredibly costly process. Plus, taking water in huge volumes from the oceans could also disrupt the food chain taking microplankton out. It’s possible, it’s being done but it’s not sustainable in a large scale. Desalination could be a good option to solving the water crisis only if a proper renewable energy is used, costs are lowered, and environmental protections are put in place for marine life too.

And melting the ice caps? You want to get environmental catastrophe? Because that’s how you get environmental catastrophe! Ice on the poles is already melting faster than it probably should and accelerating it might lead to chain of events that could have really bad consequences.

Unfortunately, we are indeed left with the above mentioned 0.0075%. To be fair, it’s actually a bit more as many people use underground source of water too but still, it’s a very small percentage in the overall scheme of things! To better imagine the amount of accessible freshwater...if we’d take a full cup of water (250 mL) as representation of all water on Earth, only 0,0018 mL would actually be drinkable! That’s only 1/30 of average raindrop! So these sources are quite precious and should be protected but to become drinking water, some measures still need to be taken.

By the official explanation “Drinking water, is water that is safe to drink or to use for food preparation” but we use drinking water for way more stuff. We use it for irrigation, we wash our dishes and ourselves with drinking water and we even flush with drinking water. Well, I say “we” as I’d mean the whole humanity, unfortunately this is not the case for everyone. In this case by “we” I mean us who got luckier and were born and live in more developed countries with milder climate and a mainly with the proper water sanitation.

The safe drinking water comes from so called ‘improved water source’ which refers to "piped water on premises (piped household water connection located inside the user’s dwelling, plot or yard), and other improved drinking water sources (public taps or standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, and rainwater collection)". Improved sources are also monitored based on whether water is available whenever needed, located on premises, free from contamination and ‘within 30 minutes' round trip to collect water. However, there is a catch. Although in theory the improved water sources should provide safe water, the studies show that about a quarter of these is actually contaminated with human excreta especially in less developed areas but there are cases in Europe and USA too.

You may wonder about the “within 30 minutes round trip to collect water” note. Well, in secluded areas such as in Sub-Saharan Africa or parts of Asia, people have to actually spend a lot of time to get drinking water and if it’s just 30 minutes roundtrip, they’re still the lucky ones. For example, in Malawi, this time is almost double! The collection of water mainly falls on women and children (mainly girls). According to UNICEF, women and girls spend together around 200 million hours every day to collect water, which is a colossal waste of their valuable time which they could better spend with their families, on child care, household tasks, or even in leisure activities. For the children, water collection can take time away from their education and sometimes even completely prevent them attending school.

Collection of water can affect the health of the whole family where again, the children are the most vulnerable. The necessity of collecting, transporting and storing water increases risk of its contamination. Such contamination then may lead diarrhoeal diseases, which is the fourth leading cause of death among children under 5, and a leading cause of chronic malnutrition, or stunting, which affects 159 million children worldwide. More than 300,000 children under 5 die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water, that’s over 800 per day!

The lack of access to safe drinking water is causing around 30,000 deaths each week. To take something at least a bit positive from this - more people die from unsafe water than from war, which if taken from historical perspective is a great achievement. However, if we consider modern options, it’s suddenly again quite horrifying.

The situation is getting better each year. In 1990, only 76 percent of the global population had access to drinking water. Right now, that number is about 91 percent but that’s still over 600 million people without access to drinking water, which is why we came up with MJ Aquaholics. Maybe, one day, we’ll help to decrease that number by at least few and if we inspire others to do the same, we may reduce it even more...we’ll see.

I understand that this blog may actually create more questions than give answers but we’ll get there, I promise. Next time, we'll take a look at the water cycle. See you then...

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