In a crisis, what happens to the ten percent of the world’s population already struggling with lack of clean water?
“You don’t miss your water until your well runs dry,” sings Otis Redding in his 1965 lament. Though these lyrics refer, metaphorically, to a lost love, the folk saying from where it derives was probably more literal. The average adult human body is 50-65% water. When the wells are dry, humans begin to die.
The “Green” section of the Huffington Post ran an article for World Water Day (March 22) which summarized the harrowing problems of water insecurity around the globe. Among them, a UN estimate that puts the number of people worldwide with too little or too contaminated water at 650 million – that’s 10% of the entire population of the planet at risk of death from dehydration and/or water-borne diseases.
Unfortunately, this statistic refers to “everyday” conditions. Displacement of populations due to war, flood, or drought compounds problems related to water security – the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters – and skyrockets those numbers.
Though 10% is a disturbing enough number, we must better prepare to deal with upticks in global warming and the spread of war (outside of current trouble zones like Syria and South Sudan) – among other factors – increasing the number of people dying of thirst.
If there’s one thing nature teaches us, even in its most basic lessons, it’s that all things are cyclical. One thing leads to another, and that’s true in the scarcity of natural resources, as well. As water insecurity increases in a particular region, so does the risk of hostilities there. In turn, water resources become even more scarce or contaminated. Then the cycle repeats, scorching more and more parched land as it goes.
Here we have taken a specific, fairly narrow view of water insecurity and how it can be compounded. We know, however, that these crises affect a much broader spectrum of the human condition. Everything – absolutely everything – is interconnected. War affects water affects food affects war affects disease. Over and over again.
Also, like nearly all things human, there are two sides. Interconnection allows us to care for and help each other across nations and continents. That same interconnection, though, can be twisted to do harm. Even when no harm is intended, the history of how mankind deals with catastrophe shows clear patterns and domino effects to the detriment of mutual survival. When unprepared, in other words, we tend to step over each other rather than helping uplift the less fortunate.
In my upcoming novel, ULTIMATE ERROR, I explore how, in the midst of widespread disaster, these patterns and ripple effects can quickly take hold, leaving little time to reverse course. Vigilance and preparedness can go a long way in keeping crises from compounding. Perhaps with the help of fact-based fiction we can better foresee our great challenges and better imagine our great solutions.