“Eco-anxiety” is a fairly new term in psychology and it describes a disorder where people are so overwhelmed by the magnitude of issues this planet faces with regards to climate change they are left feeling powerless and fearful.
“Adults keep saying, we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic.” Greta Thunberg
The thing that is most scary is that she is absolutely right. Panic is the only appropriate response when considering the issues our children will face in their lifetime.
One of the biggest issues, for our African children, is water.
Based on current usage trends, South Africa is expected to face a water deficit of 17% by 2030 and this shortage will only be worsened by climate change.
What are the key issues?
1. As a country, we are gluttonous and wasteful water consumers.
South Africans currently consume more water per capita at approximately 237 litres per day than the world average of approximately 173 litres per day. The country has a semiarid climate, with an average annual rainfall of 465 mm, compared to the world average of 860 mm.
Quick Take: We use way more water than the rest of the world and we receive way less rainfall than the rest of the world.
2. Our food production consumes a lot of water.
Quick Take: Our farming, manufacturing and eating habits are not sustainable.
3. We just keep having more children.
By 2050 an estimated 9 billion people will inhabit our planet – these people will need more water, more food (which will need more water to produce) and the earth’s climate will have changed to such a degree that more water will not be available, in fact less will be as lower rainfall, drought and heatwaves become the norm.
In Africa this issue of rampant population growth is even more dangerous given the context of widespread poverty, as populations grow, so too does the population of poverty-stricken individuals grow, and these individuals will be hardest hit by climate change and water scarcity.
Quick Take: We will have less water than we do today, but will need more than we have today.
4. The infrastructure our government has in place is old and broken.
“The infrastructure of our cities is based on the outdated notion that there is plenty of water for all uses, including flushing our sewage to the waste treatment works. While some retooling has been done, the fundamental structural problem remains: the design of water systems assume there is enough sustainable water for them to continue functioning.”, Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG), Daily Maverick, 2019
But herein lies the real challenge investment in building new infrastructure is almost impossible as our water system is so problematic, financing a new system is unsustainable. EMG says, “The failures of this system are apparent across the country, where the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation is struggling with high debt levels, municipalities owe tens of billions to the department, and water users, in turn, owe large sums to municipalities.”
It is estimated that the country will need a whopping R899 billion every year for the next decade to prevent us from running out of water by 2030, that is 37% gap in what is currently budgeted.
Quick Take: We need a bold new approach to water infrastructure, usage and rights but it will cost us.
5. Experts predict the next world war will be fought over water resources.
Quick Take: If 60% of a human’s body is made up of water, what could be more important for human’s to war over?
What are the key solutions or actions?
1. Be more water conscious – reduce, reuse & recycle.
Imagine you were pouring diamonds down the drain, hosing your drive-way down with gold or letting wads of cash drip away. Because water will be more valuable than those things in decades to come. And seeing as South African’s don’t go throwing our precious jewellery away with the trash, we shouldn’t be wasting our more valuable resource.
We should be considering greywater systems in our homes, water tanks to collect rainwater and water-wise gardens, just as a starting point.
Quick Take: Treat water like gold and we wouldn’t let gold go to waste down a drain.
2. Hold those in seats of power accountable.
We all need to become militant when it comes to water – see a leak report it, see a burst pipe report it. Apply pressure to the people in charge of water safety, infrastructure, protection and regulation – write letters, support NGOs or NPOs, join groups, sign petitions, anything you think will make your voice heard and unable to ignore.
According to Greg Martindale, natural scientist and director of NPO Conservation Outcomes, “One of the things that is of utmost importance is protecting our water sources to secure our water catchments (for both quality and quantity reasons). The process of identifying the country’s Strategic Water Sources areas has been undertaken by Barbara Creecy, Minister of The Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries. These areas represent the 10% of the country’s land area that provide more than 50% of our water runoff, primarily mountain catchments and high-lying areas along the escarpment.”
“The Minister has made a commitment to secure at least half of these areas by 2025 through the establishment of new protected areas. This is significant, as it represents a real commitment to secure the natural capital that provides much of the water that we need for the country. And it is particularly important in the context of environmental uncertainty that we face, associated with climate change. This is not the solution to all of our problems but a commitment to secure these areas and to address the challenges associated with them (for example the removal of extremely water-hungry invasive alien vegetation such as eucalyptus and wattle species) represents a real effort to secure critical water resources that we as a society rely on.”, Greg concludes.
And it is not just the public sector, it is the private sector too. Make sure we know who is receiving our hard-earned rands, do their water use policies live up to what we know is needed to secure our children’s future in a water-scarce country? If not we must stop giving them our money. Choose brands, products or services that are working to solve the problem, a business’ water policies need to become an important sales and marketing tool in the future.
Quick Take: This is everybody’s problem, hoping someone else will fix it won’t work.
3. Start now teaching children how to live a life of water poverty.
We need to start preparing our kids for a world where water is not a given, not something that just comes out of a tap. One day our children may turn the tap and nothing comes out. The better prepared they are, the more they understand the value of water and what lies in store for the future, the less stressed they will be in the coming decades.
Quick Take: Make water scarcity normal now, and it won’t be as much of shock in the future.
What does our children’s future look like if nothing changes?
WWF and The Boston Consulting Group conducted a scenario planning workshop with a diverse group of stakeholders in order to forecast what the various scenarios for the future of water in South Africa.
To read more about this future, click here.
According to this report, “Whether we run businesses or households, work in companies, or lead governmental departments, our actions impact water, and in turn, we are impacted by water. Each and every individual has a role to play in achieving a water-secure future.”
Quick Take: Human’s cannot survive without water, so if we want to survive, if we want our children to survive, water must become our species’ number one priority.
Leigh Tayler is a writer, a Leo, a feminist, a fan of The Walking Dead, a lover of all things unicorn and nearly succumbs to rage strokes on the daily. Oh, and she also happens to be a mother to one small feral child. She wears her heart on her sleeve and invariably tells it like it is, the good the bad and the ugly. She juggles her writing, her family, her sanity in-between a demanding career in advertising. She has no shame in sharing her harebrained and high-strung anecdotes on her experience of motherhood, no sugar coating, no gloss, just her blunt truth with a healthy side order of sarcasm. Find her on her blog, The Ugly Truth of Being a Mom.
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