Water remains to be one of the world’s major resources that ensure sustainability of life. Millions of years ago, human beings used water for varied purposes. In recent times, it has been used for domestic purposes and within the industries. Irrigation and industrial uses make up the bulk of water amount used by the humankind. Of the two, water is used in either a consumptive or a non-consumptive mode. Consumptive mode is where no water is lost to the atmosphere as vapor, while non-consumptive mode is when water is released back to its source, but in a polluted form. Whichever the case, the two modes severely deplete water sources. Most water supplies for these purposes come from the surface run-off waters such as rivers and lakes. Extraction of underground water from the rocks that contain water (aquifers) has also been a major practice in some arid and semi-arid areas. As the global population increases and the water use becomes varied, the planet is constantly experiencing depletion of water bodies. The rate of depletion has been so dramatic in recent times, thus leading to a global water crisis.
Global Water Crisis
It is estimated that approximately 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. Those who are not informed that only 2.5% of this water is fresh water that can be readily used may look at these data as extremely good news. The remaining 97.5 per cent of this water is saline and cannot be readily used. Further surveys show that 70 per cent of the fresh water is frozen in the North Pole, South Pole and on the mountain peaks. This leaves a percentage of around 0.007 being available for domestic use (Darwish, 1994).
The above data that show the acute shortage of water for the world’s population of approximately 8 billion people can be emphasized by several facts about water. Facts about water indicate that over 884 million people on earth do not have access to clean fresh water. This represents an eighth of the entire population of the world. Secondly, 3.575 million people die annually from the complications that arise from water-related diseases. The most affected are children. It is estimated that, on average, one child dies every twenty seconds globally from water-related diseases. Thirdly, water costs between five to ten times more to people living in the slums than those living in the rich class estates of the same city. These, among other facts, illustrate how water has turned into one of the major crises of the world (Morris, 1998).
Due to the threatening crisis, the World Bank has set a standard of 1,000 cubic meters per capita to be the annual average water quantity required for every person. Athough different countries have different levels of development, any country that consumes less than 1,000 cubic meters per capita is perceived to be under a water crisis. The following table shows different regions of the world and their water consumption per capita.
From, Belyaev, v., Institute of Geography, USSR. National Academy of Sciences, Moscow. 1987.
Water crisis in the Middle East
Although Africa leads globally in the water crisis problem, several countries in the Middle East are similarly facing the water crisis problem to a considerable extent. One perfect example is Jordan. The crisis in Jordan perfectly serves as an example of the countries that suffer in this region (“Middle East Economic Review”, 1990).
All the available water resources in Jordan and its surrounding countries have been put to maximum use or have been overused. This leaves desalination as the only viable resource of water that can be put into use. Through this, the demand and supply gap of fresh water will be greatly reduced thus solving the crisis. While turning to desalination as the only viable option, it is worth noting that the process requires lots of energy. Most of the countries in the Middle East import fuels to meet their demand. Jordan is an example that imports almost all of its oil and gas (“Middle East Economic Review”, 1990).
Therefore, before the desalination process, further research should be done to source cheaper and adequate amounts of fuel to cater for the whole process. In Jordan, the National Energy Research Centre conducted the research enabling the extraction of gas fuel, which is currently being used for the desalination process (Itamar, 1994).
To avoid mismanagement of funds and water resources, the ministry of Water and Irrigation was given the mandate to ensure effeective management in the fresh water production and usage process. The ministry heads other smaller water authorities in the country, and this has so far ensured equitability and proper management and distribution of water resources. The current desalination status in Jordan includes 21 desalination plants that mainly cater for irrigation and a brackish water desalination plant. Privatization of these projects has also ensured they are up to standards and well managed (Morris, 1991).
Thoughthese countries have achieved a lot in fighting the crisis, there is still more to be done in terms of reduction of water demand through the innovation of industrial production methods that require less amounts of water. There is also a dire need for mass education on proper use and re-use of water at the domestic level, among others.
Alternative sources of water have to be tapped as well. The Middle East countries also have to make use of the fossil water available in some countries, such as the Disi aquifer in Jordan that has a lot of fresh water (Shapland, 1997). Water treatment plants should also be put in place. This will enable the treatment of wastewater. Dams should also be constructed on any available rivers to trap the water available. Such rivers include the River Yarmouk in Jordan (Sherman, 1993).
Water Crisis in Northern Africa
Most of the people in Africa are affected in the global water crisis. With an average of 450 cubic meters of clean water per capita, the continent is operating at less than a half of the standard set by the World Bank. This alarming indicator is worsened by the fact that most of the North African countries are operating at a figure far less than 450 cubic meters per capita. This is a result of the climatic conditions of the Northern Africa that lies in the arid and semi-arid Saharan region. Among the countries affected most are Tunisia and Algeria (From Scarcity to Security, 1996).
Tunisia has the water resources capacity of only 450 cubic meters per annum, which can be 100 per cent tapped. Almost half of this water has got a salinity of over 1.5g/l, thus naturally unused. However, Tunisia has enough energy sources that, if well used, will greatly reduce the water crisis. The sources range from petroleum, natural gas, and coal to hydropower.
Tunisia resolved to build 48 desalination plants. However, most of these plants are run by specific industries for their own uses. Therefore, it is important for the Tunisian government and any other government in the Northern side of Africa to set up more desalination plants aimed at serving the rural people in their countries.