Each year, the 22nd of March marks World Water Day, the goal of this day is to inspire action towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: water and sanitation for all by 2023. World Water Day also celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2 billion people currently living without safe water access.
The theme for this year's World Water Day is groundwater. Groundwater is water stored between the cracks and spaces in the soil, sand and rock that lies beneath our feet in the Earth’s surface. These spaces are called aquifers and they hold almost all of the liquid freshwater in the world, it is invisible to us but we can see its impact everywhere. Groundwater supports a wide range of things such as drinking water supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industry and ecosystems. As you know, each year the world wastes 1.3 billion tonnes of food. The World Resources Institute estimates 45 trillion gallons of water is hidden in this food waste.
Groundwater is not always readily available in the places that need it the most, such as Asia and the Pacific region. This is because the quality of the groundwater is not great and there is a high cost of abstraction.
Due to the growing population, demand for more food leads to increased demand for water. Agriculture is already the largest consumer of the planet's freshwater resources, in fact, more than one quarter of the world’s energy use is being spent on food production and supply. The global population is expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050. Based on current rates of food production, consumption and waste, this will mean we need a 60% increase in food production. In turn, this means even more water being taken, and wasted from our already strained supply. A kilo of apples uses about 822 litres of water to grow and apples are the 4th most commonly thrown away food from kiwi households. It’s important to remember that reducing your food waste can play an important part in reducing your water consumption.
Other threats to groundwater include geogenic (natural) and anthropogenic (human) contamination. Geogenic contamination includes pollution from arsenic and fluoride. This naturally occurring pollution of the groundwater affects millions of people from all different continents. This means that groundwater quality needs to be monitored regularly. Anthropogenic contamination is caused by effects of agricultural intensification, urbanisation, population growth and climate change. Pesticides and nitrates in North America and Europe are another big threat to the quality of groundwater.
To summarise, groundwater is a precious resource and human activities can pollute and over-use groundwater at a quicker rate than can be replenished by rain or snow. This can take up to centuries to recover from! Protecting this groundwater and using it sustainably is necessary in order to survive and adapt to climate change.