During times when many of us have our minds on matters conceivably much more critical than environmental ones, it is difficult to concentrate on the more mundane matters of clean drinking water and clean air. Unfortunately, while our nation's attention seems fully consumed with the whereabouts of terrorists, water and air continues to be overused and/or contaminated. In reflecting on this odd state of affairs, we begin to understand how easily it is for us to forget about one of the basic necessities of humanity -- clean drinking water.
Considering that water constitutes about 60 percent of our body weight, it is not surprising that it is a critical resource to human beings. (Even larger percentages of water are found various parts of the body: the human brain (70 percent); blood (82 percent); and, lungs (90 percent).) Given its material chemical importance, it is no wonder that we have to replenish our individual water content on a regular basis. On a collective basis we also need huge volumes of water to ''feed'' our agricultural needs, such as corn, soybeans, cows, etc. Seeing how reliant humans are upon water, it would appear that we would be much more informed about its distribution and availability.
On a global basis fresh water, or drinking water, makes up only a very small amount of all water. Most water on Earth is in the oceans (97 percent). The remaining portion (~3 percent) is in frozen (in glaciers) or is below the land surface, i.e., groundwater found in aquifers. Amazingly all the water in lakes, inland seas, rivers, and the atmosphere amounts to only 0.023 percent (or two parts per ten-thousand) of all the water on our planet. Of the fresh drinking water available to us, 72 percent is frozen, which leaves...
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...ter for irrigating nonfood crops with great success (Gleick). Lastly, a few nations, especially those with very limited access to groundwater, have made great strides in the process of desalination (i.e., the removal of salt from ocean water). This process is well-developed but still prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of people on Earth, but may become more feasible as renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, become more widespread. These efforts represent a starting point for humans willing to take our water resources more seriously in order to avoid future international conflict and instability, something all of us surely desire.
Enger, E.D. & B.F. Smith (2000) Environmental Science: A Study of Interrelationships. Boston: McGraw Hill.
Gleick, P.H. (2001) ''Making Every Drop Count.'' Scientific American, 284 (2), 41-45.
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