The Water Scarcity Problem That’s Destroying Countries Pt. 1: The Situation

Guest Blog by John Hawthorne

Clean water. It’s something almost all of us take for granted. We turn on the tap, fill our cup, let some spill over, and then guzzle it down. It’s a privilege we fail to recognize. There is a colossal water scarcity problem in the world. Millions of people struggle to find enough clean water to survive. In order to move toward a solution, we need to first understand the problem. In this post, we’re going to help you understand the how, what, and why of the water scarcity problem.


The Staggering Lack Of Clean Water In The World

Over 884 million people worldwide live without clean water. In order to better comprehend that staggering number, that’s the equivalent of:

  • 1 in every 10 people on the planet’s surface.
  • Twice the population of the United States.
  • The whole of Europe.

And as the years fly by and overpopulation becomes an increasingly difficult problem to solve, that number continues trending upward, inflating and growing, but never going down. Water scarcity is a harsh reality.

By the year 2018, some 1.1 billion people worldwide will lack access to any sort of water, and a total of 2.7 billion will find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Out of those figures, 2.4 billion will have inadequate water sources and have to deal with a series of life threatening diseases. A vast majority of the world population will regularly experience outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, malaria, zika, and dozens of other water borne illnesses and parasites.

In the year 2014, two million people died from diarrheal viruses and the ensuing complications. Out of those numbers, 43 percent were pre-adolescent children, most under the age of five. Access to basic sanitation and clean affordable water, can save over 17 thousands folks a week. The majority of people afflicted by this problem live in desolate, isolated, poor regions. These are often rural places that in often find themselves embroiled in some sort of political challenges.

In many cases, water, not oil, is the most precious commodity for these disenfranchised citizens, with warlords and local mafias using the resource as a means of power and political pressure. Access to clean water is of paramount importance for those without it. There are millions of people risking their lives and spending hours just for a clean gallon of water. Children go without any education, their sole responsibility trodding dozens of miles a day and fetching water.

In essence, a community without a viable source of clean water is destined for extinction. Clean water means economic growth, education, better income and healthy neighborhoods. And the outlook isn’t any better:

By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. Although the surface of our planet is covered mainly by water, over 73 percent to be exact, only 3 percent of it is considered drinkable. And, to complicate matters, only ⅓ of that scant number is accessible to humans (the rest is tucked away in glaciers, and remote regions). Finding fresh water sources is an incredibly rare thing.

Overpopulation and consumption has put a strain on an already depleted ecosystem. Many water systems, like lakes, rivers and aquifers are drying up an alarming rate or, due to our meddling, becoming far too polluted to use. Agriculture, above all other practices, consumes enormous amounts of water, more than any other industry. These precious resources are consumed in an ineffective manner.

Additionally, in impoverished regions, such as Africa (where thousands die from a result of having zero access to clean water) or in Pakistan (where the shortage has claimed ⅓ of its population), a different set of problems assaults the region: economic water scarcity. In most of these districts, water treatment plants and “soluble” wells and aquifers are nothing more than open holes in dry river beds. In Tanzania, this last practice led to devastating epidemic that slashed their population by 75% in the late 2013.


What Is Economic Water Scarcity?

In order to understand the water crisis, we need to understand the concept of economic water scarcity. Economic water scarcity is a term that begun having a wide range appeal in mid-2007. It was defined, after a rather long and investigative essay, as a condition caused by the lack of investment in water infrastructure.

The concept first came into play after researchers and policymakers, overseen by the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, conducted a 50 year study to determine the viability of sustaining life on Earth with the growing population problem. Their findings were less than hopeful.

One on the prime symptoms of economic water scarcity is a region’s capacity, both technological as well as human, to satisfy the area’s demand for drinkable water. It is a critical and typical manifestation of underdeveloped countries.


John Hawthorne is a health nut from Canada with a passion for travel and taking part in humanitarian efforts. His writing not only solves a creative need it has also lead to many new opportunities when traveling abroad. This article was split into two parts and republished with his permission. 

Showering in South Sudan…Sometimes

DSC_6347.JPGNWNL Director Alison Jones met fellow journalist Dale Willman just before he left for South Sudan. We stayed in touch as he worked to help young local journalists in this Nile River Basin, newly-formed country.   Dale is an award-winning editor, reporter, trainer and photographer with decades of reporting from five continents. During more than 15 years in Washington, DC, he worked for NPR, CBS and CNN. As a trainer, he was recently in South Sudan working with the staff of a local radio station. During the first Gulf War he reported from London for NPR, providing coverage for an IRA bombing campaign. 

South Sudan’s struggles with peace and availability of clean water continue to create disturbing headlines.  NWNL is proud to carry Dale’s story. 

By Dale Willman

Showering outside is one of the few pleasures for a temperate-zone kind of guy working in the tropics.

But water is a precious resource in South Sudan. It is also a complicated topic. For many of the country’s 8-10 million people, clean drinking water is relatively accessible. The operative word here of course is “relatively.”

I lived in Turalei, a small village in South Sudan from July of 2015 until March 2016. Older U. S. sports aficionados will remember its most famous resident, NBA basketball star Manut Bol, who is now buried in a memorial north of the village. I was there as a journalism trainer for Radio Mayardit. We lived in a fenced compound with our radio station, a small living area of three tukuls (small huts), a cooking area, latrines – and that outdoor shower.


Turalei is a sleepy village. Its rutted dirt roads pass by market stalls made of sticks and rusty, corrugated metal roofs.  Posters of soldiers killed in the country’s civil war are plastered on a monument that marks the middle of the village. Food is scarce. I lost 30 pounds in my first two months. For a guy more comfortable with snow, it is hot. South Sudan is a tropical country where daytime temperatures regularly reach north of 115 degrees. An evening shower under the stars helped me survive.

The entire country however lacks the most basic infrastructure, including running water. Many larger villages have at least one wellhead, thanks to the tireless work of dozens of NGOs over the past ten years. But for those in the countryside, which is most of the country’s population, the nearest well may be a kilometer or more away. That presents difficulties for some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens – its youngest population.

Children are an economic asset in this country. Kids working at home are more important to a family struggling to survive than kids getting a classroom education. So rather than backpacks filled with books like American school kids, many South Sudanese children carry dirty, yellow jerry cans a kilometer or two from wellhead to home. Each can holds five or more gallons of water and weighs 40 pounds or more. Often children do this several times each day in order to have water for the most basic of needs – cooking and bathing among them.


Having access to clean water though does not mean that the water people drink is clean. For as many as 2/3 of homes, by the time water is consumed it is contaminated with E coli and other impurities, according to research over the past decade.

Open storage is a huge problem. In Turalei’s compound where I lived and worked, drinking water was kept outside in a 50-gallon drum, loosely covered by a broken wooden board, often left lying on the ground. It was not uncommon to see mosquito larvae and pupas floating in the water. Birds that regularly sat on the drum’s rim would defecate into the water. And of course the dust – there is always dust – also infiltrates the barrel.

And there’s that shower I so relished. The water tank for my shower was regularly left uncovered. The container was so contaminated that at one point I was treated for a ruptured eardrum, probably caused by an infection from contaminated water.

Transport of water from its source to a home is another source of potential contamination. Many worked and lived in our compound, thus our water needs were extensive. A young man we hired regularly brought the water to us in two 50-gallon drums welded together and hauled on a donkey cart. One day my shower smelled of petrol. It’s possible that he made a little extra money that week by hauling fuel for someone, using the same drums he used for our water.


How water is stored in the home plays another major role in whether families will be drinking clean water. The jerry cans that store water in homes across South Sudan are often also used for cooking oil, petrol and other commodities.

The way water is used, or not used, is a significant health factor for the country’s population. It was common during my year in South Sudan for me to see people returning from a toilet before meals without washing their hands. Since most meals are eaten communally, diarrheal diseases easily spread through entire communities.

Throughout history, water has played a major role in defining South Sudan. The White Nile divides this country as it flows from its Ugandan southern border to its northern Sudanese border. Above Juba, the nation’s capital, the river spreads out to form the world’s largest swamp called The Sudd.


In 61 A.D., The Sudd blocked invading Romans, ending Emperor Nero’s hope of dominating all of Africa. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the British attempted to cut through the Sudd. While the British were periodically successful, their efforts were always short-lived. Nature, it turns out, is a better reclamation artist than humans usually give credit. Even now, the Egyptian government’s effort to create a canal to drain a portion of the swamp in the next 24 years has stalled.

For many years, The Sudd has been an advantage for the citizens of South Sudan, having created a natural barrier to fighting that has ravaged the country. With much of the conflict based around the oil fields in the northeast, the Sudd has prevented some of that fighting from infecting much of the nation’s western flank.

Like I said, water is a complicated issue in South Sudan.

Raritan River Week!

New Jersey, reflections of sycamore trees in Lamington River, tributary of Upper Raritan River
New Jersey, reflections of sycamore trees in Lamington River, tributary of Upper Raritan River

We love the Raritan River!

April 16-30, 2016!

Check out the events page for rain barrel workshops, nature walks, stream cleanups, composting/gardening sessions and more for people of all ages to enjoy! There’s also a great list of resources for the region which includes maps of parks and protected areas, a book list, and lesson plans for teachers.

Did you know that there’s a Quarterly publication called Raritan too?Raritan offers writers and readers the opportunity for sustained reflection and aesthetic pleasure, uncluttered by academic jargon. Founded in 1981 by the distinguished literary critic Richard Poirier, and supported by Rutgers University, Raritan aims to reach the common reader in everyone and to provide a particular experience of reading, one that nurtures an engaged and questioning approach to cultural texts of all sorts: literary, artistic, political, historical, sociological, even scientific.”

USA: New Jersey, Raritan River Basin
USA: New Jersey, Raritan River Basin

LNG Threat to Hudson and Raritan River Estuaries

LNG pipeline to cross the western Lower NY Bay, which is the Raritan Bay
LNG pipeline to cross western Lower NY Bay’s Raritan Bay
USA: Fishing in Raritan Bay off Sandy Hook right above proposed route for the LNG pipeline
Raritan Bay off Sandy Hook over proposed LNG pipeline route

NY/NJ Baykeeper is a strong voice fighting an LNG terminal (see definition below) that would threaten the biodiversity and water quality of the Hudson and Raritan River Estuary, one of the largest ports in the world. LNG usage, which furthers greenhouse gas emissions, is also a concern.

Dolphins swimming this summer just outside the Raritan Bay
Dolphins swimming this summer just outside the Raritan Bay

WHAT is Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)?

Liquefied Natural Gas is natural gas that has been super-chilled to minus 260 degrees, turning it into a liquid that is 1/600th the original volume of gas. It is clear, colorless, odorless, and extremely volatile. This gas is compacted so large volumes can be shipped overseas. LNG should not be confused with gasoline or compressed natural gas.

LNG is Expensive. The intensive energy use required to liquefy natural gas and shipping costs makes LNG up to three times more expensive than domestic natural gas.

LNG is Dirty. It results in up to 40% more greenhouse gas emissions than domestic natural gas due to a life cycle that requires super-cooling, transporting overseas in giant tankers, and heating back to gaseous form.

WHAT is Port Ambrose?
As proposed by Liberty Natural Gas (confusingly also called “LNG”),  “Port Ambrose” would be an offshore port for importing or exporting LNG to or from the coasts of New York and New Jersey. This port would allow two LNG vessels (which are as long as the World Trade Center Tower is tall) to directly connect to the region’s natural gas system, with a capacity that could be expanded.

Read more from the “Port Ambrose Fact Sheet: A Proposed Offshore Liquefied Natural Gas Facility”

PROTECT THIS ESTUARY and OUR OCEAN by supporting “The New Jersey/New York Clean Ocean Zone Act,” which is bi-partisan, bi-state legislation to permanently protect the waters off the NY/NJ coast from polluting activities and facilities, such as LNG ports.

USA: NY/NJ Baykeeper  headed downstream towards Middlesex County Landfill
NY/NJ Baykeeper , on the Raritan River, is actively fighting this Port Ambrose LNG proposal

An Educational Resource For Teachers: Exploring the New York New Jersey Harbor Estuary Region

The Value of Water in a dry land – Photos from the Omo River Basin

Africa:  Kenya; Pokot Land, Orwa, CABESI Kitchen without Borders project, vegetable garden plot, seedlings
Africa: Kenya; Pokot Land, Orwa, CABESI Kitchen without Borders project, vegetable garden plot, seedlings


Ethiopia: Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother
Ethiopia: Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother


Ethiopia:  Omo Delta at low water stage, herders lead cattle to water
Ethiopia: Omo Delta at low water stage, herders lead cattle to water


Africa:  Kenya; Turkana Land, man pushing cart of gerry cans to be filled with water from the river outside of town
Africa: Kenya; Turkana Land, man pushing cart of gerry cans to be filled with water from the river outside of town


Africa:  Kenya; Karakol, dried tilapia headed to markets in Kisimu, Nairobi and elsewhere
Africa: Kenya; Karakol, dried tilapia headed to markets in Kisimu, Nairobi and elsewhere


Ethiopia:  Omo Delta, Dassenech village of Ilokelete, in low water season, woman carrying fodder for goats
Ethiopia: Omo Delta, Dassenech village of Ilokelete, in low water season, woman carrying fodder for goats


– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Massive cleanup of coal ash spill continues

Exactly one year ago today, NWNL documented the clean up of the Nation’s largest coal fly ash spill at Kingston Fossil Plant, TN.  In 2008, over 1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry leaked into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, part of the Mississippi River basin. The recovery will continue into 2015.

Did you know you can take a tour of the site?

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

will work for clean water


Have a few laughs and check out more of T. McCracken’s witty water quality cartoons and ecology cartoons!!!