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Why Is There a Problem?

Earth’s population could grow by three billion in the next 50 to 75 years. More thirsty people means even greater demand on already-scarce resources and, paradoxically, a greater chance that existing water sources will become polluted. Many of the world’s major aquifers are being over-pumped, and in some river basins governments have allocated more water than is actually available.

Booming “megacities,” the focal point of growth in the developing world, are concentrating people without proper sanitation systems so that they often pollute water sources with their own waste. The industrial and agricultural growth on which those new billions of people depend add their own pollutants to many water supplies.

Freshwater resources are also feeling the squeeze from Mother Nature. There is high seasonal and annual variability of rainfall and snowmelt, and the resulting streamflow, in many regions. Climate change could spell the end of some critical—but nonrenewable—water sources like snowmelt. Coastal dwellers may see their groundwater tainted by brackish flows as sea levels rise.

Other barriers to a safe and secure drinking water supply may include an absence of local expertise in the construction and maintenance of water systems, a lack of the necessary financial resources for their construction, wars and other conflicts, and natural disasters.

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