Short Showers Are Not Enough: The Water Crisis

Running out of water is a very real danger. We need to fix it, right now.

Water is a seemingly endless resource. We have seas full of it, it falls from the sky (annoyingly often if you’re in the UK), and at a turn of a tap, we have as much of it as we want. I’m part of the generation who was taught about water conservation as kids and the advice has stuck with me. “Take short showers, don’t leave the tap on whilst you brush your teeth, wash your dishes in a sink of water, not under a running tap”, the easy to follow advice that makes us all feel eco-conscious. I didn’t realise how dire things were until I watched a harrowing episode of Vox’s Explained on Netflix, that revealed just how urgent the water crisis is.

The Cape Town water crisis began in 2017 and continued well into 2018. Water levels got so low that talk began of “Day Zero” when Cape Town would run out of water and the supply would be cut off. People would have to queue for their water rations because the city simply didn’t have enough. The city halved its water consumption, and Day Zero was pushed back again and again until it moved into 2019. It seems that it takes an imminent crisis for us to finally be motivated to act.

It seems unfathomable to us that we could ‘run out’ of water. We are incapable of living without it, yet we take for granted its accessibility. Yet 3/10 people on this planet don’t have access to running water, and it is a nearing reality that those of us who do might not have it forever. What is Cape Town’s crisis today, could well be London’s crisis tomorrow. The problem is this: our planet is covered in water, but the vast majority of it is undrinkable. As our population grows and grows, and our consumerist greed grows with it, we simply don’t have enough. The WWF estimates that by 2025, 2/3 of the world’s population may experience water shortages.

So where’s our water going? Even as the population grows, surely there’s only so much water we can consume? Your average person needs to drink 2 litres a day, which should leave more than enough to go around. The problem is that we use much more water than we ever come into contact with. The water that we see when we shower or make a cuppa is a tiny percentage of the water that we’re using. 70% of the world’s accessible water supply goes into agriculture. Of that water, 60% is wasted through leaks or ridiculous farming methods. As Vox neatly puts it, the problem is that “we’re growing alfalfa in the desert”. Water isn’t viewed as a valuable commodity, it’s treated as an unending throwaway resource. It’s available so cheaply that companies don’t think twice about growing cops in completely unsuitable climates. Throwing litre after litre of water at the problem is a cheap solution. Western populations are not only growing in size but growing in greed. We demand more and more; eating a diet that includes far more red meat than can ever be sustainable. People are selfish and willing to sacrifice anything in order to meet their own personal wants.

The World Water Vision Report sums it up:

“There is a water crisis today. But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people — and the environment — suffer badly.

This burden lies not just on consumers who refuse to give up their luxuries, but the companies who make an enormous profit off of irresponsible abuse of environmental resources. As long as we make it possible for companies to have cheap access to huge amounts of water, they will continue to use inefficient techniques rather than put in the effort to make a change. Only around 10% of water use is domestic. Even if we all gave up showering altogether, stopped washing our dishes, and left our gardens to wither — we’d only conserve 10% of our water. The real pressure needs to be put on corporations, and then consumers need to start making more responsible choices. You don’t have to commit to a lifetime of Veganism (although that’s certainly a good call for the environment and your own health) but we do all need to start making better choices. As long as people continue to demand meat every day, or even more than once a day, we will remain in crisis. People love to comment on how much water is used to grow soya, as though it’s vegan nuggets that are killing the planet, but the reality is that a huge amount of the crops we grow go not into our own stomachs but into those of livestock. Cutting down your meat consumption to a few times a week is good for you, and good for the planet.

As much as I advocate individual pro-environment choices, nothing significant can be achieved until we force the giant corporations to get their act together. The guilt is often placed entirely on the public so that we’ll forget that the biggest offender is not the everyman, but the capitalist giants that make billions every year without regard for the damage they are doing. The only way we will make the changes needed to end water scarcity is through strict legislature that makes it impossible for companies to put their profits before the needs of the many.

Shorter showers are never a bad idea, but considering the crisis we’ve created, they’re just not enough anymore.

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Originally published at on March 20, 2019.

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