The State of Our Water

Cape Town, South Africa

The first ancient civilizations were built on the banks of great rivers; Mesopotamia was situated between the Tigris and Euphrates, the Egyptians flourished along the Nile, the Shang dynasty ruled in the Yellow River Valley, and the Indus Valley civilizations were greatly dependent on the Indus River’s water supply. In the last millennium, mankind has gained the ability to build civilizations further inland due to more advanced water supply systems and transportation. And in the last century, water shortages have almost completely disappeared from our everyday worries.

Water trumps all other necessities. We must have water before we can worry about anything else. And so it’s odd that people exhibit little concern or knowledge about the state of their water supply or that of others around the world. Most developed countries have remained largely oblivious to the increasingly dire situation of our water. The citizens of these developed countries have been even more oblivious. Perhaps it is simply that the memory of water shortage has become too distant, too surreal for most people to grasp.

In the summer of 2013, Las Vegas experienced a major water shortage. The city had previously received 90% of its water from Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir. That year, Lake Mead’s water levels had dropped by more than 100 feet. The shortage was caused by a surge in population: from 400,000 to two million in the last decade. The reservoir was predicted to be empty by 2036.

And yet, the public took little notice. But who can blame them. After all, spectacular water shows continued to be performed, lush golf fields continued to be watered, and enormous resort-sized swimming pools continued to be filled. In fact, the total infrastructure of Las Vegas increased in the following years.

Today, the situation in Las Vegas is uncertain. Generous snow and rainfall over the past few years have helped ease the problem. However, experts say that the worst is yet to come. And the government there has yet to take any long-term steps in preventing a massive drought.

The events of Las Vegas were echoed across the world. California experienced its driest years on record between 2011–2014 and continues to suffer from a paralyzing water scarcity. Northern China and India have been plagued with water shortage for the last decade. African countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, and Nigeria suffer from not only an increased scarcity of water, but also increased levels of contamination. However, in these events, the local or state governments have already taken action to combat the water shortages, largely due to the fact that these events have already reached a certain level of severity where it is almost imperative for the government to intervene.

Cape Town, South Africa is the newest addition to our growing list of places stricken by a water shortage. The drought began in 2014 and has progressed with minimum effort by the government to stop it. At the end of January 2018, the water levels were at 26 percent capacity. When the reservoir reaches 13.5 percent capacity on “Day Zero”, millions of homes will no longer have access to running water. “Day Zero” is scheduled to occur in July. Only recently has the government implemented severe water rationing in hopes to stall time for the reservoirs to fill back up. Even so, this is nowhere near a long-term solution.

Our past water shortages have supported a fault of human nature; we are unlikely to take preventive action until the event is seriously threatening us. In such instances, we are reluctant to act early, simply because the event had not directly affected us yet. As in any lesson of history, we should recognize this trend in our behavior and utilize it to make better decisions in similar ongoing or future crises.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment your opinions and thoughts on this situation below. Any feedback and criticism would also be greatly appreciated.