Young girl drinking water from a tap

02 Nov 2021

Water, the key to life

Maxine Gray, Investec

Maxine Gray

Strategy development, Investec Wealth & Investment, South Africa

Simone Smith

Simone Smith

Head of Compliance, Investec Wealth & Investment, South Africa

Civilisation as we know it is built on a reliable supply of fresh, clean water. It’s essential that we ensure access to this precious resource.

71%
of Earth’s surface is water
97%
of the earth’s water is in the oceans
3%
of the earth’s water is fresh water

Water is foundational in supporting life on our planet. As humans, we have a critical dependency on water to meet our direct and indirect needs. Our natural environment, biodiversity, animal life and even clouds depend on it. Water is both our life source and our life force, covering 71% of Earth’s surface. 97% of the earth’s water is found in the oceans, which is too salty for our consumption and can’t be used to grow on for most industrial uses. This leaves just 3% of earth’s total water supply as fresh water for our uses.

As water is a precious and fundamental building block to humans and Earth today, the sustainability of water and water management are becoming increasingly important considerations globally. The Sixth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal aims to capture the importance of water and its targets aim to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The goal aims to expand water and sanitation support to developing countries as well as sustainable management of water in developed countries.

Historically, water has played a defining role in the formation of civilisations, which were built and flourished around key water sources. Ancient Egypt was built alongside the Nile, a number of civilisations arose along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (Mesopotamia) and Rome was built on the banks of the Tiber River. This pattern has continued throughout the development of the world and many thriving cities today have been established on or near water sources, for example, London, New York, Paris and Shanghai.

Water comes from various natural sources including the land, rivers, lakes, oceans and air. With over three quarters of the Earth’s surface covered by the oceans and seas, the limited fresh water supply is further reduced by a large portion of the fresh water sources still being locked up in glaciers, for example. Surprisingly, accordingly to research, there may well be sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve access to clean water for all, however the way in which we manage and preserve this supply is critical in achieving this. Our current water usage and management is suboptimal, which means that by 2030, there will be a 17% shortfall between how much water we need versus how much water is available, according to estimates. Pressure on our water sources doesn’t only impact humans but also creates pressure and stress on biodiversity in the global ecosystem.

Our current water usage and management is suboptimal, which means that by 2030, there will be a 17% shortfall between how much water we need versus how much water is available, according to estimates.
People queuing for water

In addition to the threat of disease to water safety, bad waste disposal-related management has also directly impacted water quality due to chemicals and other harsh materials contaminating drinking water. Strict water management policies are critical to ensure that water management becomes a key focus across industry and business. Good water management not only saves lives but also limits the adverse impact on biodiversity.

Water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population and is projected to rise. Not surprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the importance of water and good sanitation. Scientists and doctors unilaterally agree that handwashing and access to hygiene services is one of the most effective tools in fighting the pandemic and curbing the spread of the virus. However, with so many people globally impacted by a lack of basic water and hygiene, the impact of the pandemic is inevitably higher in poorer areas.

There are various campaigns globally to become “water wise”. Water wise means rebasing your lifestyle choices on the reality that water is a finite, precious resource. Using less water will also help to reduce the greenhouse gases released from collecting, treating, and supplying clean water, while also potentially lowering your water bills. Here are some easy steps for you to take today to become waterwise and to start actively contributing to SDG 6:

  • Reuse your glass and mug to use less water.
  • Take shorter showers and use a bucket to catch water.
  • Check your taps for leaks as part of our household maintenance routine.
  • Install aerators and flow-reducing valves on your taps.
  • Install a geyser blanket for insulation.
  • Practice water wise gardening by irrigating your garden early in the morning or after sunset to reduce evaporation.
  • Turn off taps when brushing your teeth.

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