Global warming and climate change are phrases we are all familiar with. Scientifically accepted and proven by over 97% of scientists, the full effect of warming temperatures are impacting the world all over. Whether it is rising sea levels, freak storms, or severe droughts, global warming is likely to eventually effect us all. Water in a time of global warming and climate change makes everything more difficult. Outcomes like melting ice caps and heavy rains would suggest more water is becoming available but unfortunately the opposite is true. Water is already a sparse resource. Around the world many do not have access to clean water affecting their health, lives and living standards, and global warming is making this worse. In this article, we look at how droughts, flooding and rising sea levels negatively impact on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation.
A drought, by definition, would negatively impact water supplies and sources. A drought is an extended period of no or very little rainfall often resulting in the drying out of water reserves. As a drought continues groundwater reserves, reservoirs, rivers and lakes can completely evaporate affecting the water supply. Along with a decreased supply of water, the dryer weather causes a strain on water sources via the increase in water demand. Water sustains life. Humans, animals and plants all rely on sources of water for their very survival. In times of drought demand increases as people and cattle become dehydrated and crops dry out. A decreasing supply of water along with an increasing demand can result in the non-fulfillment of the human right to water and sanitation.
Droughts are becoming more common around the world. California and Somalia provide two very recent examples of the negative implications of droughts on water supplies and life. Prolonged droughts do not only affect water resources but increase the likelihood of other disasters such as flooding. After a prolonged period of dry weather with little or no rainfall, the ground completely dries out. If after years of drought there is a sudden storm or heavy rainfall, flooding can occur, as the water is not able to drain away. The water sits above the ground instead causing flooding. California and Zimbabwe have both been affected by flooding that has followed on from a drought . It causes its own negative impacts on access to water and sanitation.
Flooding can have an adverse affect on people’s access to water. Firstly, this often occurs through destruction to infrastructure. Heavy rains causing rivers to burst their banks and flash floods often leaves a path of destruction. Houses, roads, buildings and other water related infrastructures can easily be damaged by flooding. Where such infrastructure does not exist, intense flooding can make previous water resources inaccessible. Both outcomes mean access to water can be made impossible.
Secondly, flood water can also affect the human right to sanitation through contamination. Due to the nature of flooding, water can easily be contaminated. Free flowing water is uncontrollable and can come into contact with contaminants such as oil, gas and pesticides. This water eventually makes it way back into the water supply through the breaching of water related infrastructure as part of the flooding or eventually runs off into groundwater reserves. The contaminants are taken along with the water, leaving water that is no longer clean. Drinking or washing with this contaminated water has serious impacts on health and livelihood.
Heavy floods are not unique to wetter regions either. Burkina Faso is a country that usually suffers heavy droughts and desertification. However, in 2015, heavy rains caused flooding that affected around 20,000 people and left the country in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and aid.
It is more difficult to see the impacts of melting ice caps on water sources and resources around the world. What would melting ice caps have to do with islands thousands of miles away? Unfortunately, the answer is a lot. Melting ice caps are the biggest driver of rising sea levels. As sea levels continue to rise access to clean water becomes more difficult.
The featured image on this post was taken 3 years ago by our very own Dr. Antony Kingsley. It was taken on a Bijagos Island called Amititi, off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. Dr. Kingsley remembered that the tree used to be further up the beach and often had local children playing on it. However, on his last visit the tree was in the water, highlighting the amount of sea level rise. This has had adverse effects on the well in Amititi. Previously it produced clean water but “now it tastes salty”. Like with flooding, rising sea waters eventually seep into groundwater reserves taking with them anything contained in the water. It is likely to take a few more years before the island succumbs fully to rising waters but in the meantime the effects of global warming are taking a direct toll on people’s access to water.
Droughts, floods and rising sea levels are only a few of the impacts global warming and climate change are having on the human right to water and sanitation. Already, 5 Pacific Islands have been lost to rising tides. Droughts and floods are becoming more common and water scarcity is increasing. As a key resource to life water must be protected. We must do all we can to stop global warming and climate change while simultaneously supporting NGOs and charities who protect and provide water sources. The following list will help get you started in protecting water sources that are currently threatened by climate change and global warming.
If you have any other tips for saving water and tackling climate change, please let us know in the comments below!
All of the work that is undertaken at WellFound looks to ensure that local communities are able to reach clean water, access safe and hygienic sanitation facilities and grow a market garden. With history of working in Senegal and Burkina Faso, we are currently working in and raising further funds to help more communities in Guinea-Bissau. We are currently working in Binhome, Bissunga, Quedet and Tama. Please support us by donating here.