Water Stress: The Unspoken Global Crisis

Gospel for Asia (GFA World, founded by KP Yohannan) Report - Unspoken Global Crisis, Water Stress - nations struggle for safe drinking water

WILLS POINT, TX – Gospel for Asia (GFA World) founded by K.P. Yohannan, which inspired numerous charities like Gospel for Asia Canada, to assist the poor and deprived worldwide, issued this Special Report update on the typically under-discussed looming global water crisis. 

Water problems are often big news, whether it’s ongoing crises in American locales like Flint, Michigan or Newark, New Jersey; in 11 cities across the world forecasting as most likely to run out of drinking water; or the widespread concern that two-thirds of the world will face shortages by 2025.

Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute
Photo by World Resources Institute

And yet, “water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about,” says Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute. “Its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict and migration, and financial instability.”

One recent report from World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that 785 million people lack a basic drinking-water service. Globally, at least 2 billion people use a source contaminated with feces. Contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and dysentery.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says an estimated 801,000 children younger than 5 perish from diarrhea annually, mostly in developing countries.

Not only is safe, readily available water important for public health, WHO says improved water supply, sanitation and better management of resources “can boost countries’ economic growth and can contribute greatly to poverty reduction.”

Still, nearly 50 years after the U.S. adopted the Clean Water Act (regulating surface water quality standards and discharge of pollutants into water) and close to 30 years after the United Nations started observing World Water Day (Mar. 22), getting clean water to everyone remains a monumental challenge.

That’s true even in developed nations. More than 2 million Americans lack access to running water and indoor plumbing; another 30 million live in areas lacking access to safe drinking water.

Last September, an investigation into a 6-year-old boy’s death led to detection of a brain-eating amoeba in the water supply of Lake Jackson, Texas, an hour south of Houston.

But it isn’t just the U.S. struggling to provide an adequate supply. Two years ago, BBC News chronicled 11 cities most likely to run out of drinking water. Topping the list was Cape Town, South Africa, which the BBC said was “in the unenviable situation of being the first major city in the modern era to face the threat of running out of drinking water.”

Cape Town has thus far avoided that fate by instituting usage restrictions, but that city and 10 others continue to face a water shortage:

Interestingly, only Mexico is listed by WHO and UNICEF among 10 countries with the worst drinking water. The other nine include Congo, Pakistan, Bhutan, Ghana, Nepal, Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Uganda. Tales of woe in the report include 40 percent of Ugandans having to travel more than 30 minutes for safe drinking water.

In two previous special reports for Gospel for Asia entitled “Dying of Thirst: The Global Water Crisis,” and “Solving the World Water Crisis … for Good,we unpacked the global quest for access to safe, clean water, and how lasting solutions can defeat this age-old problem. This article highlights continuing water stress problems worldwide, and various solutions that are emerging to deal with a crisis issue that is too often underdiscussed.

Pandemic Problems to Make Global Water Crisis Worse

As if the situation wasn’t bad enough, the pandemic of 2020 exacerbated conditions. In a forecast just prior to last year’s World Water Day, the UN said, “A continuing shortfall in water infrastructure investments from national governments and the private sector has left billions exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ensuing developments justified the warning. Soon after, grocery stores in central California took to rationing bottled water to deal with the pandemic’s effects that posed serious health risks for residents in rural farmworker communities, where tap water is often fouled by agricultural pollution.

Water stress presents formidable challenges to many people in Asia and Africa, like this young boy in Africa, needing to take a drink from this mirky pond. Photo by Frederick Dharshie, CIWEM, Environmental Photographer of the Year Gallery

In long-plagued Flint last summer, 55-year-old Cynthia Shepherd told The Detroit News that, coupled with the extended water crisis there, the pandemic was making it “tough.” “I’ve known a few people who have died, and it’s scary,” says Shepherd.

Soon after reopening for the 2020-21 school year, school officials in five Ohio towns announced they had found legionella—the bacteria that can cause a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease—in their water supplies. So did four districts in Pennsylvania. Ironically, precautions taken to prevent infection risks could have added to the problem.

“Stagnant water in unused drinking fountains or sink plumbing could be a good reservoir in which the bacteria could grow,” wrote New York Times reporter Max Horberry. “And shower heads like those found in locker rooms are common places for Legionella to proliferate.”

But it’s worse elsewhere. Countries in Africa and South Asia, where 85 percent of the world’s people live, face formidable challenges. One report said during the outbreak a lack of clean drinking water and hygiene practices became a major concern for cities in the developing world, especially in slums, urban fringes and refugee camps. Since COVID-19 has focused global attention on the need for frequent handwashing, drinking water and personal hygiene, The Conversation said political leaders will have to give attention to quality as well as access.

“It will be an even more daunting task, in both developed and developing countries, to regain the trust of their people that water they are receiving is safe to drink and for personal hygiene because of extensive past mismanagement in most areas of the world,” the publication observed.

African child drinking polluted dirty water from a pond in his neighborhood.
Photo by Mzilikazi wa Afrika

In an article for GeoJournal, Professor Albert Boretti noted that technological improvements that helped deal with increased demand for water, food and energy since 1950 were not enough to avoid a water crisis. Not only have worldwide coronavirus cases (as of Aug. 4, 2020) surpassed 18.4 million and fatalities reached almost 700,000, containment measures aimed at limiting infections damaged the world economy, he said.

“This will limit social expenditures in general, and the expenditures for the water issue in particular,” Boretti said. “The water crisis will consequently become worse in the next months, with consequences still difficult to predict. This will be true especially for Africa, where the main problem has always been poverty. … More poverty will translate in a lack of food and water, potentially much more worrying than the virus spreading.”

Baseline water stress measures the ratio of total water withdrawals to available renewable surface and groundwater supplies. Higher values indicate more competition among users. Photo credit: World Resources Institute, Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas (CC BY 4.0) • Data Source: WRI Aqueduct 2019

Singapore Water Crisis Solutions

When it comes to cleaning up water, the Asian city-state of Singapore is a success story. For more than a century after the British settled there in 1819, the Singapore River was the focus of global and regional trade. That also brought pollution associated with commercial activity, such as industries, squatter colonies and food vendors dumping garbage, sewage and industrial waste into the river.

Ariel view of the clean Singapore river near Clark Quay in the central area of Singapore. Photo by Amos Lee

For more than a century, various commissions proposed alternatives for improving navigation and solving pollution, including a 1950s report suggesting improvements costing $30 million. For various reasons, it was never implemented, say the authors of an academic paper on the history of the clean-up.

However, in the 1960s, the prime minister set in motion a plan that included a call for water and drainage engineers in two departments to work together to resolve environmental problems. Polluters were told to move, families relocated to high-rise public housing, and a series of other steps were taken that cost $300 million.

“When the costs of the rivers cleaning programme are compared with the benefits, it is clear that it was an excellent investment,” said lead author Cecilia Tortajada. “The river cleaning programme had numerous direct and indirect benefits, since it unleashed many development- related activities which transformed the face of Singapore and enhanced its image as a model city in terms of urban planning and development. Most important, however, was that the population achieved better quality of life.”

These women in Asia typically have to walk for hours in search of water sources that are often just filthy ponds or dirty lakes, and typically contaminated with waterborne illnesses. As they are without options, they do this knowing the water could bring sickness or death to their families.

Other Global Water Crisis Solutions

Cleaning up water is only part of the solution to the global water crisis. The main part will be finding additional water sources, which is where advancements in desalination (also known as desalinization) offer encouragement. According to one report, desalination capacity is expected to double between 2016 and 2030.

One Columbia University team achieved a zero-liquid discharge without boiling the water off—a major advance in modern desalination technology. Photo by Chenyu Guan

Last June, Columbia University announced engineering researchers have been refining desalination through a process known as temperature swing solvent extraction (TSSE). The school says TSSE is radically different from conventional methods because it does not use membranes to refine water. In a paper for Environmental Science & Technology, the team reported their method enabled them to attain energy-efficient, zero-liquid discharge (ZLD) of these brines.

“Zero-liquid discharge is the last frontier of desalination,” said Ngai Yin Yip, an assistant professor of earth and environmental engineering who led the study. While evaporating and condensing the water is the current practice for ZLD, it’s very energy intensive and prohibitively costly. The Columbia University team was able to achieve ZLD without boiling the water off—a major advance in desalination technology.

Among other advances is work by a research group at Spain’s University of Alicante, which has developed a stand-alone system for desalination that is powered by solar energy. A second solar-powered system developed by researchers in China and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was announced in February 2020.

Without clean water, youngsters worldwide are susceptible to many waterborne diseases, which prevent them from attending school and can thereby keep them trapped in a persistent cycle of poverty.

There is also commercial potential, as shown by 11 plants operating in California, with 10 more proposed. One in suburban San Diego turns 100 million gallons of seawater into 50 million gallons of fresh water daily, which it pipes to various municipalities. While it costs twice as much as other sources, the water resources manager for the San Diego County Water Authority says it’s worth it.

“Drought is a recurring condition here in California,” said Jeremy Crutchfield, Water Resources Manager at the San Diego County Water Authority. “We just came out of a five-year drought in 2017. The plant has reduced our reliance on imported supplies, which is challenging at times here in California. So it’s a component for reliability.”

This mother and child are both enjoying a refreshing splash of the clean drinking water provided through a Jesus Well. Before these wells were built, women and children from the village walked miles back and forth to fetch water, which was most often contaminated. Now their villages enjoy the relief and love that these Jesus Well brings. The fresh, clean water is available to the villagers year-round, right in the middle of town, saving them time, and concerns about waterborne diseases.

Micro Solutions to the Global Water Crisis

3.4 million people die every year from waterborne diseases caused by contaminated, dirty water. A simple BioSand water filter can change that, providing water that is 98% pure after filtration.

For every macro problem there are also micro solutions. In addition to the United Nations, there are numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charities fighting for clean water, like water.org, the nonprofit founded by actor Matt Damon and Gary White. Faith-based World Vision is one of the largest NGOs and provides clean water in addition to its child sponsorship and disaster relief work.

Another active NGO is Gospel for Asia (GFA World), which initiated water well drilling projects in 2000 after the Lord put a burden on a donor’s heart about the need for clean water. He contacted the ministry to ask if it would allow wells to be built near churches led by GFA pastors—and sponsored the first 10, known as Jesus Wells. Drilled 300 feet (91 meters) or deeper into the earth, these wells often provide clean water for 300 or more people per day.

Over two decades, the results have been phenomenal. GFA has drilled a cumulative total of more than 30,000 wells and today is completing around 4,000 each year throughout Asia. In addition to helping entire villages, Gospel for Asia (GFA) provides solutions for individuals and families through BioSand water filters, designed for home use. Capable of removing 98 percent of biological impurities, the filters can last for up to 20 years with proper care. By the fall of 2020, the ministry had distributed more than 58,000 filters.

BioSand water filters are bringing joy to families in South Asia! Many people in this area have to drink dirty water out of stagnant ponds, for lack of access to clean water sources, so after receiving a water filter like this one, their family can now drink clean, tasty water instead.

The blessings such help provides can be seen through a number of individual stories. In one of the first villages where a Jesus Well was installed, residents used to drink from a pond also used for bathing, irrigation and cooking. Summer droughts often evaporated the dirty pond water; a well near the village went from providing clean water to a brownish substance in a matter of months and was later abandoned.

Now, the clean well has become part of the community’s fabric. Says a GFA pastor whose church is next to the well: “I feel very happy to know that this is one of the first Jesus Wells. It’s not easy to have a well maintained for this many years; because anybody can install a well, but maintaining it for almost [20] years, where it still gives clean and good drinking water, it is not easy. That makes me very proud and happy.”

Founder of Gospel for Asia (GFA), K.P. Yohannan, says the faith-based NGO is helping thousands of needy families, especially children. Without clean water, he says youngsters are susceptible to many diseases, which prevent them from attending school and can thereby keep them trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Dr. K.P. Yohannan,
GFA World Founder

“We attack the water crisis globally by installation of wells in a village or BioSand filters in homes,” Yohannan says. “We did a study in our medical camps and found the No. 1 issue for children in South Asia was either diarrhea or upper respiratory infections. Our ultimate goal to give kids an education so they can get a better job is compromised if they’re sick.”

Waterborne diseases causing stress, sickness, and even death can be addressed and resolved with proper solutions, like BioSand water filters and fresh-water wells.

BioSand Water Filters

If you’d like to make a personal impact on the world water crisis, consider giving a needy family a simple BioSand water filter. For only $30, GFA World can manufacture and distribute one of these effective filters to a water-compromised family in Asia or Africa and provide them with clean, safe water for years to come.

Jesus Wells

Or, consider giving toward the $1,400 average cost to install a Jesus Well for an entire community. Jesus Wells can serve 300 or more people with safe, clean drinking water for 10-20 years.

Either solution is a simple and effective way to take part in helping reduce water stress in this world and provide micro solutions to the global water crisis for people in need of clean, safe drinking water.

Give towards Clean Water Projects »

If this special report has touched your heart and you would like to help families and communities who are suffering through the water crisis, please share this article with your friends and consider making a generous gift to GFA World to help give clean water to a village through BioSand Water Filters and Jesus Wells.

About Gospel for Asia

GFA World (Gospel for Asia) is a leading faith-based mission agency, helping national workers bring vital assistance and spiritual hope to millions across Asia, especially to those who have yet to hear about the love of God. In GFA World’s latest yearly report, this included thousands of community development projects that benefit downtrodden families and their children, free medical camps conducted in more than 1,200 villages and remote communities, over 4,800 clean water wells drilled, over 12,000 water filters installed, income-generating Christmas gifts for more than 260,000 needy families, and spiritual teaching available in 110 languages in 14 nations through radio ministry. For all the latest news, visit our Press Room at https://press.gfa.org/news.

Read more news on Gospel for Asia, World Water Crisis, and the COVID 19 Pandemic.

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KP Yohannan has issued two statements about the COVID-19 situation found here and here.

GFA’s Statement About Coronavirus

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