An Expert's Opinion
One of our students, Maryam, had an opportunity to interview Dr. Sandra Postel via email. Here is the transcript:
Maryam: In your words, how would you describe the water crisis?
Dr. Sandra Postel: There are three distinct components to the global water "crisis" in my view. One, water is finite, but our population and consumer demands keep growing. So there are a growing number of river basins where our demands are reaching the limits of the water supply. Two, some 860 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. Women and girls must spend hours each day collecting water, instead of going to school or starting a business. Plus, the lack of safe drinking water is a leading cause of disease and death, particularly for children under the age of five. Third, pollution. A good share of rivers, lakes and groundwater are polluted, in some cases with contaminants at levels harmful to health.
M: How do you think the water crisis affects those who are marginalized?
S: The poor are most affected because they do not have the resources they need to access safe drinking water or irrigation water. So they end up drinking unsafe water or going hungry because they cannot afford the technologies to irrigate their land during the dry season. Fortunately, a number of groups are now designing and marketing irrigation systems for the farmers living on 2 dollars a day -- which is transforming lives and lifting millions out of poverty.
M: What would be some of the most effective ways to educate the public, those who have objections and/or doubts, and future generations regarding the water crisis in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past?
S: We are trying to do exactly this at National Geographic. Our freshwater portal (nationalgeographic.com/freshwater) has a rich array of content on the freshwater challenge, as well as tools to help people calculate their own water footprint and learn of ways they can conserve.
M: How do we combat depleting water resources and water pollution?
S: Cities, farmers, industries and individuals can all do their part to conserve water and use it more efficiently. It takes 700 gallons of water to make a cotton T-shirt. Do we all need to buy so many T-shirts?!
M: What 3 simple steps would you suggest Americans can do in order to address the global water crisis?
S: 1. Examine our own water footprint and make changes in our lives to shrink it. Our National Geographic calculator can help any American do this. Easy changes that save a lot of water include eating less meat, especially feedlot beef, which is very water intensive. Each American's water footprint lands in river basins all over the world (check out our tool on this here), so consuming less and more consciously can make a big difference when multiplied by millions of people.
2. Get educated and involved in your local watershed. Know where your drinking water comes from, how sustainable and healthy the source of your water is, and engage in grassroots efforts to protect your watershed.
3. Join our Change the Course campaign. For every pledge made, we return 1000 gallons of water to depleted rivers in the Colorado River Basin. It's not a pledge of money; it's a pledge to take some action to conserve water in your own life. Our corporate sponsors turn your pledge into dollars that we invest in on-the-ground restoration projects. So your pledge can help us restore needed water to depleted rivers, in addition to shrinking your own water footprint. Check out Change the Course here; and make a pledge here. We can use your help. Thanks!!