On Sunday 22 March, we’ll celebrate UN World Water Day. Its slogan – “a day to celebrate, a day to change, a day to prepare” – really hits the nail on the head.
Water provides us with life, enables our food to grow, sustains industry, creates energy to heat and power our homes and businesses – a list worth celebrating. But, we can’t keep using it in the way we have; we need to change and prepare for the future so we can start managing water more sustainably.
Living beyond our means
The global picture of water use is frightening. When you visualise how much water is available on earth – it probably looks something like the picture below.
When in reality, it looks more like this picture:
According to the US Geological Survey, this is a more accurate look at all of the world’s water. The biggest blue sphere (which is 860 miles in diameter) represents all of our water – including our oceans and freshwater. However, of this, 98% is saltwater and only 2% is freshwater, which is also represented by the second smaller sphere (170 miles in diameter).
Of the freshwater available, the vast majority can’t be used as it is locked up in icecaps and aquifers. In fact, there is a third tiny dot in the picture below the second sphere (you may not even be able to see it), which represents the total volume of water available from lakes and rivers, our main source of freshwater – this is only 35 miles in diameter!
WWF’s own Living Planet Index showed that freshwater species have declined by an average of 76% between 1970 and 2010, an average loss almost double that of land and marine species. Coupled with that, global freshwater demand is projected to exceed current supply by more than 40% by 2050. The bottom line – we’re living beyond our means
In the UK, we only have to look at the health of our rivers, lakes and beaches to see there is a problem – less than 1 in 4 is deemed to be at “good” status and our recent report on ‘The State of England’s Chalk Streams’ (PDF) showed that some of our rivers are particularly affected, with over half of our unique chalk streams at risk from having too much water taken out.
According to Waterwise, we actually have less available water per person than most European countries – the south east has less per person than the Sudan!
Making a difference with collective action
But there are lots of individuals and organisations who really care about this issue and are doing some fantastic work to try and remedy the situation.
Under the HSBC Water Programme, we’re working with local authorities, businesses and communities to implement new practices and policies that are helping to protect rivers in five priority freshwater places across Africa, Asia and South America.
We also had some fantastic success here in the UK working with Coca-Cola to help protect English rivers. And we’re continuing this progress by working with The Rivers Trust and Westcountry Rivers Trust on WaterLIFE, a project that aims to improve rivers in the UK for the benefit of people and nature.
One small change at a time
But change doesn’t always come in the form of global projects or partnerships; change can be a small action, like turning off your tap or knocking a minute from your morning shower. Digging a little deeper, there are things we can do that you might not think having anything to do with water. For example, it takes 10,000 litres to produce one sheet of paper so think how much water you could save by simply reusing scrap paper instead or reaching for a fresh sheet from the printer.
In the spirit of celebrating water and trying to use it more sustainably, we’re encouraging everyone to join in with Waterwise’s Water Saving Week, which starts on Sunday. It’s an easy way to learn a bit more about this precious resource and have fun whilst doing do.
Waterwise is setting everyone daily challenges throughout the week; one of which is to help protect our water resources by using your voice and visiting Save Our Waters to stand up for the river, lake, stream or beach you love.