Water for Life
Water for Life
Over a billion people don’t have access to a safe water supply. And a third of the world’s population lacks basic sanitation with the result that more than 2 billion human beings are afflicted with infections that result in diarrhea and other diseases. Tens of millions of them die every year. Improving this state of affairs poses a massive challenge. Take sanitation: What if we could provide basic facilities for all those people over the next 20 years? You’d have to hook them up to the sewer system at the rate of half a million a day. We know how to install individual toilets and sewage pipes, but a project on that kind of scale is way beyond our capabilities. It would not only require new technology but a huge amount of money and political will, too. The challenges for providing all humanity with access to clean water are similarly gigantic. It’s not a matter of scarcity. There is enough drinking water for everyone on Earth even as its population continues to grow. According to the United Nations, a human being needs 20 liters of drinking water a day to live healthily. Every year, 100,000 cubic kilometers of rain fall on the earth, which translates into 40,000 liters per person per day. That would be plenty even if you only manage to tap a tiny fraction. Sufficient drinking water is available for all even in the driest regions of the earth. The problem is one of quality: People don’t die of thirst; they die from drinking water that’s not safe. The use of water for agriculture is another story. Roughly 70 percent of the human use of fresh water is for farming. People rarely realize just how much water agriculture requires. It takes 1,000 liters to grow the wheat for a single kilogram of fl our, for instance. Other products soak up even larger amounts of water. A kilogram of coffee needs 20,000 liters, and a liter of milk takes 3,000—mostly for the cattle feed and the grass consumed by the cow.
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