Society and the Environment: Water Challenges

Safe water is a basic human necessity for cleaning, cooking, and drinking. At least one in eight people worldwide do not have access to a safe and reliable water supply.

In the United States and other developed countries it is easy to get clean water. These countries have systems to deliver water to distant places. They also have effective laws and management to preserve the water supply and have good waste collection and treatment systems. In much of the world, this is not the case. Access to clean water is one of the world’s biggest health challenges. For example, in many African countries, there is not enough water. In places where there is plenty of water, it often is contaminated with human wastes or pollutants. Thousands of people die every day from diarrhea caused by drinking unsafe water.

Making a Difference
For the last several decades, many organizations have been cooperating to bring clean water to people around the world. One of these programs is the Global Water for Sustainability Program (GLOWS). GLOWS is a team of organizations, led by Florida International University, funded by the United States Agency for International Development. By working with governments of developing countries and local communities, they increase social, economic, and environmental benefits of clean water. They do this by helping countries develop management plans for water use and creating infrastructure to deliver and purify water. This ensures that there is enough clean water available and that people don’t have to travel too far to get water. GLOWS trains members of local communities in waste and water management to maintain water resources into the future. Although there is still much to do, international programs including GLOWS have improved water access and sanitation for more than a billion people already.

Water in a Changing World
The challenges of ensuring adequate water resources for people are complicated by environmental changes. Drought, sea level rise, floods, and other factors associated with climate change threaten water supplies. Drought and salt water moving into freshwater supplies can reduce the amount of water available to people. Floods can make waters unsafe to drink if pollutants enter the water supply. Understanding the impacts of climate change and natural disasters is a critical part of GLOW’s work.

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