March 22nd is World Water Day. If recent reports are anything to go by, the world seems to be headed towards a serious water crisis. Here are some easy ways to conserve water and do your bit to save water at home.

Water is a strange thing. Its unusual characteristics are something that science finds utterly weird. For example, it is denser as a liquid than as a solid. Its unusual molecular structure allows it to exist as a liquid at room temperature, where similar materials exists as a gas. Even its molecular formula, good old H2O, may actually be H1.5O (but only in the realm of quantum physics). But despite its weirdness from science’s perspective, it is all too familiar to us both at an individual level and at the level of larger society. Water is a vital component of the human body, making up almost 65-70% of our body weight. It was the life blood of ancient civilizations. The Indus Valley, Chinese, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian civilizations all grew up on the banks of mighty rivers carrying precious water. Where there’s water, there’s life. Where there’s no water, life – especially of the human kind – struggles.

How Much Water Do We Have?

So, how much water is available on the planet for humankind? At first glance, that may seem a rather lame question. 72% of the planet is water. But you can’t quench your thirst with salty water! 97% of the planet’s water is just that – salty. Good for the fishes but not for us. Desalination technologies which take the salt out of the water are enormously expensively and aren’t much of a solution unless you’re rich and desperate. That leaves 3%, of which 2.5% is frozen in the Antarctic, the Arctic, and glaciers. (Of course if global warming has its way, that may soon change, but that’s a whole other problem.) That leaves us with 0.5%, and only about one-hundredth of that 0.5% is available on the Earth’s surface in lakes, rivers and reservoirs; the rest is stored in underground aquifers which are expensive to get to, though that hasn’t kept them from being exploited and depleted.

The Earth is a pretty big place, so even this miniscule fraction is a big-sized chunk. But we’re 7 billion people! So it isn’t surprising that the world is heading towards a water crisis. Today, an estimated 780 million people live without adequate access to clean drinking water, and nearly 4000 children die every day due to dirty water or lack of proper hygiene. Even parts of the developed world are facing a water crisis. 56% of the land area of the contiguous United States is currently under drought – one of the worst in the US in recorded history. If global population grows, so will water demand, and at current trends, close to 3 billion people will live in water stressed areas by 2025. Mumbai and Delhi are expected to top the list of cities in terms of water demand.

Globally, several rivers are running dry due to overexploitation.

While it is true that a major portion of fresh water is funneled into agriculture and industries where wastage is often rampant and policy changes are the need of the hour, we as individuals can still be aware of the problem and save water (and thus, also money) at least within our own homes. This by itself may not solve the whole problem, but it can form a basis for a large-scale movement to influence national and international policy.

Save Water At Home

  • Turn off what’s not in use: Running the tap while brushing your teeth can waste 15 liters of water.
  • Fix any leaks: Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drop per second can waste up to 10,000 liters of water each year.
  • Recycle, reuse: Everything takes water to make. Buy only when you need to and reuse what you can. It takes 2500 liters to make a cotton t-shirt and 10,000 liters for a pair of jeans. Buy fewer clothes, and when using a washing machine or dishwasher, wait till you have enough for a full-load.
  • Bath-time: Bathtub – bad! Shower – okay. Bucket – best!
  • Gardening: Water used in landscaping and gardening accounts for a major portion of domestic water use, especially in the developed world. Moreover, 50 percent of water used in gardening goes waste due to evaporation or runoff caused by over-watering. Consider installing a drip irrigation system rather than using a hose or sprinkler. Water your garden in the morning or evenings, ensuring that less water is lost to evaporation. Use local plants in your garden. Check if your garden actually needs watering. If the soil is still wet 2 inches beneath the surface, your plants don’t need water. Spread some mulch around your plants. This will help retain moisture and save water, time, and money.
  • The water you “eat”: If you are a non-vegetarian, consider reducing your non-vegetarian meals. A kilogram of chicken costs 3900 liters of water in terms of water input for chicken feed and for processing; a kilo of mutton costs 6000 liters. In contrast, a kilo of wheat needs 1000 liters. Rice is rather expensive though, a kilo needing 3750 liters. Like a cup of coffee in the morning? Think about shifting to tea. A cup of coffee needs 140 liters of water in terms of growing the necessary coffee beans, and processing; a cup of tea needs only 30.
The shrinking of the Aral Sea over 4 decades.

It doesn’t take a whole lot to make a big difference in our water consumption. With awareness and a few minor changes in lifestyle, we can save water, and money as well. Unless we learn to conserve water and use it judiciously, the future of coming generations looks bleak. Take for example, the case of the Aral Sea in the former USSR, which was once the fourth largest lake in the world. Thanks to irrigation projects that diverted its two main source rivers, the Aral Sea has shrunk to a miniscule fraction of its former size. Hopefully, there won’t be any other “Arals” in the future.

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Sources: Managing the water-food-energy nexus
Water – Facts and Trends
Mumbai, Delhi lead in need for water: McKinsey
The Hidden Water We Use