How Much Of The Earth Is Covered By Freshwater?

Only 1% of the world's water is easily available for human consumption and use.
Only 1% of the world's water is easily available for human consumption and use.

In total, approximately 70% of the earth consists of water, but only about 2.5% of this water is freshwater. The term freshwater, also known as sweet water, describes water that occurs naturally apart from brackish water and seawater. The earth’s freshwater includes water in streams, rivers, ponds, bogs, lakes, icebergs, glaciers, ice sheets, and groundwater among others. Freshwater is not the same as potable water (drinking water). The debate about the amount of freshwater is important because, by and large, the great majority of plants and animals depend on freshwater for survival.

Historical Freshwater Cycle

Scientists believe that there is the same freshwater now as there was during the prehistoric times which was hundreds of millions of past years. Freshwater remains fairly constant because the earth’s atmosphere recycles this water back to their sources. The process is known as water cycle and it involves water in the various forms; solid, liquid, and vapor.

Is There a Freshwater Crisis?

Availability of global freshwater remains an active debate topic. The atmospheric water cycle ensures that there is an almost similar volume of water throughout. One major concern is the rapid population growth and the increasing demand for freshwater to supplement human life and activities like agriculture and other industries. Worse still, as societies develop each year, the competition for freshwater increases.

The question as to whether there is a freshwater crisis or not is contextual because social, environmental, political, and economic forces dictate water availability in different areas. Some people have always had plenty of freshwater for whatever use, whereas, in some areas, water remains a scarce commodity. For example, in 2018, Cape Town, South Africa became of the first cities in the world to almost run out of water. Of the 2.5% of freshwater, people have easy access to only 1%, most of which are in solid forms in snowfields and glaciers. This situation leaves approximately 0.007% of freshwater which is easily accessible for daily use.

Access to freshwater is not a problem in many developed nations, however, most communities that live in arid and semi-arid areas, especially in developing countries, have minimal access to freshwater. This limitation is often because of government inability, lack of sociopolitical will, or general insecurity. On the flip-side, some countries within deserts have gone to great lengths and put in place dependable freshwater systems. Such countries include Israel, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Some developing countries also have easily accessible freshwater but lack modern systems to enable water use by their citizens.

Future Availability of Freshwater

As societies become complex and innovations that require freshwater continue to spur, there is a growing strain on freshwater resources. If history is anything to go by, humans continuously prove to be careless water users. The ever-growing global population, especially in developing countries, also indicate the future strain in access to freshwater. As the population grows, it not only puts pressure on freshwater systems but also other natural features that maintain supply and circulation of water.

Trends in climate change also point to a future reduction in freshwater availability. An adequate supply of freshwater in the future depends on conservation measures in place. The global community ought to focus on conservation activities like afforestation, re-afforestation, and water resource management for sustainability. Some of these measures, if done correctly, can reverse damages to the global ecosystem.


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