Water Use and Shortages

In GCSE Geography students will look at some of the uses we have for water, such as agriculture or waste disposal. They will also study some of the causes of water shortages, for example climate change or the rise in population.

Whilst our planet is 70% water only 3% of that water is available as freshwater - and two thirds of that is locked up as ice! 1.1 billion people in the world don’t have access to safe drinking water and a further 2.7 billion find it difficult to get access to clean water for at least 1 month of the year. Lack of clean water creates several problems. The initial lack of clean water leads to water pollution which in turn leads to diseases being spread via the water supply.

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Water shortages are caused by a huge variety of reasons, but some that you need to consider for exams and essay questions include…

  • Climate change leading to shifting rainfall patterns and leaving populations without safe drinking water.
  • Use of water by nations further upstream. Many continental nations share a single river as a water source. Damming and discharging pollution into the rivers upstream will prevent clean water reaching cities and towns further downstream.
  • Population increases. As human populations rise the demand for water for drinking, washing and waste disposal all increase.
  • Agriculture is the biggest user of water. With massive inefficiencies in the way water is used in some systems of agriculture, it accounts for the greatest usage for the least gain.

Technologies and strategies are improving the world's access to water, but often the necessary infrastructure and resources are unavailable in LEDCs. Added to that, the rise in extreme weather conditions may make water shortages more common.

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  1. What is one of the main reasons domestic use of water is higher in MEDCs than in LEDCs?
    Houses in MEDCs use far more water than in LEDCs. The use of rainwater harvesting and storage may in the future reduce the water usage by up to 50%
  2. Charities often report that they are providing new spring fed systems in areas that already have a non-functioning one. Why might it be the case that the systems provided are falling into disrepair?
    Several charities now work not just to provide clean drinking water but also the skills, tools and parts to allow the local population to repair and maintain their own water systems
  3. How does providing appropriately built and sited toilets increase the availability of fresh water in locations with no running water supplies?
    Since wells and boreholes rely on water from the water table, contamination by raw sewage from toilets is a real problem. Correct siting and design mean that this risk is reduced
  4. The Pergau Dam project was one in which the British Government agreed to build a dam to provide electricity and clean water in Malaysia. However, there was a condition - Malaysia purchased arms from Britain in return for the aid. It was later shown that the electricity could have been produced in a more effective manner. What is this sort of aid deal, where conditions are attached that do not benefit the poorest sections of the population, referred to as?
    Tied aid forces the country recieving the aid to spend the money, or an equal amount of money, in the country providing the aid. It may be that over half of all aid is tied
  5. Which of the following is not a problem with water supplies in LEDCs?
    Often there is plenty of water available in LEDCs, with some suffering from flooding more than droughts. It's the lack of clean, safe water that is the real issue. Technologies that clean water are as important as ones supplying water
  6. Which of the following is not a way that providing clean water benefits local populations?
    When clean water is scarce it is often sold from tankers and other sources at a high cost. Providing clean, reliable and affordable sources of water allows the local economy to grow as people have more time for work and education and fewer days off due to illness
  7. What is an advantage of boreholes over hand dug wells?
    Boreholes are a more reliable source and will tap into underground reservoirs, leading to their use in many MEDCs - but they are a higher cost option then digging a simple well
  8. Which of the following is not a method of harvesting water?
    Rainwater harvesting relies on the use of the water that falls as rain, rather than water from reservoirs underground. Building recommendations in the UK state that rainwater harvesting and storage should be incorporated into building designs where possible
  9. Which of the following is one way that education can help safeguard water supplies in poorer areas of LEDCs?
    Education can not only help reduce water usage, but also teach people to do more with what they have, and to safeguard the supplies by reducing the chances of contamination
  10. Why might wells be a suitable source of water?
    Wells are normally dug by hand and so are relatively shallow. If sited correctly and dug to an appropriate level in the ideal geology, they can be a good source of water. But in general there are better sources of reliable water

Author: Ruth M

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