The sustenance of the incredible variety of species and biodiversity on planet Earth throughout millennia has been largely dependent on the abundance of water that exists here. The planet Earth is able to sustain life because of the existence of water in liquid form on its surface.
For the majority of life to exist, fresh water is absolutely essential. However due to numerous factors fresh water has become and is being seriously depleted worldwide. Countries all around the world, including those whose rainfall was until only recently very high are experiencing drought. Millions of lives are being lost and many are suffering from severe conditions due to it.
Though water is present in ample quantity on the Earth's surface, covering more than three quarters of the Earth's surface, only 3% of it is fresh water. Of this 2% is found in ice caps and glaciers and 1% in underground sources, rivers, streams, lakes and the atmosphere. The renewal processes associated with the global hydrological cycle govern the supply of freshwater on Earth. Unlike many resources such as coal, oil and gas the fresh water system is a renewable and regenerative one. It has the ability of being replenished through a combination of natural processes and the passage of time.
However it can only be renewed through the process of the water cycle, where water from seas, lakes and rivers evaporates, forms clouds, and returns to earth through precipitation. This global cycle is utterly dependent upon forests, particularly indigenous mountain forests, for this precipitation to take place on the scale necessary.
When considering fresh water it is vital to consider mountain regions. They play an extremely crucial and irreplaceable role in the hydrological processes of the planet and in the regional hydrology of all continents (Roots and Glen 1982).
Ecosystems, especially mountains, mountain forests and wetlands play a key role in maintaining fresh water quantity and quality. Therefore it is essential to support efforts, which protect, sustainably manage and restore these ecosystems. Such actions are of utmost importance for global water security.
"We recognize the key role that ecosystems play in maintaining water quantity and quality and support actions within the respective national boundaries to protect and sustainably manage these ecosystems." (UNCSD Rio+20 2012 ‘The Future We Want’ Paragraph 122)
“Water is essential to human life, and healthy mountain ecosystems are essential to global water supplies. By taking care of the world's mountains, we help to ensure the long-term survival of all that is connected to them, including ourselves." (Douglas McGuire, head of FAO's Mountain Group.)
Mountain regions cover approximately 25% of the Earths’ land surface and source between 60% and 80% of Earths’ fresh water. All of Earths ’rivers have their headwaters and origins in them. They are also known as the ‘Water Towers’ of the world. They provide critical storage of fresh water in the form of glaciers, glacial lakes, ice and snow, which melts and is released during warm seasons.
By their interaction with the global atmospheric circulation, the mountains extract substantial water in the form of snow and rain. In turn this precipitated water flows out as rivers, both seasonal and perennial, forming the most accessible freshwater supply to large areas in the plains below. This supply is essential to all life on Earth.
Many streams and rivers would cease to flow entirely if their headwaters and watersheds were not fed by the seasonal melting of these snows. Such valuable storage of fresh water is vital for all life on Earth. They are also important in the interception of air circulating around the globe, by forcing it upwards where some of it condenses into clouds and returns to earth again as rain and snow.
Apart from the fundamental and vital part that mountains play in maintaining the regenerative fresh water cycle, their snow, ice caps and glaciers form a powerful solar reflector, which regulate Earths’ temperatures. Nowadays glaciers are retreating, shrinking and thinning in all regions of Earth.
As they melt and become thinner this function naturally becomes less effective, greatly influencing rising temperatures upon Earth and adding to global warming. This also leads to glacial lake outbursts and land slides, which disrupts the amount and timing of fresh water released to all rivers and lowlands, causing problems with its quality and quantity.
Also glaciers are not being replenished as fast as they should be. This scenario rapidly wastes the supplies of fresh water, which are available to all and threatens the fresh water and food supplies for hundreds of millions, if not billions of people, along with all life on Earth.
When huge volumes of ice melts a substantial amount of it evaporates increasing the quantity of water vapour in the atmosphere and adding to the green house gas. Water vapour H2O is a very powerful greenhouse gas, which normally stays in the atmosphere for around nine days.
However if it is not brought to Earth through precipitation, it rises into the upper atmosphere and increases the problems of the greenhouse effect and exacerbates Global Warming.
Ample quantities of mixed indigenous mountain forests, full of deciduous trees, are also crucial for healthy watersheds. They maintain the stability of all rivers and water tables.
“Healthy mountain ecosystems are the foundation of healthy people, both in the mountains above and in the plains below. To save civilization, there is no greater urgency today than to regenerate and conserve our mountains. “Their role in regulating our climate and water systems is fundamental to the sustenance of our life on this planet.”(Dr Ashok Khosla, Lucerne World Mountain Conference 11/10/2011)
The welfare of all species, communities and groups can only be maintained and improved if there is ample fresh water. The success of protecting, sustaining and maintaining the global fresh water cycle is in everyone’s best interest. Our ancestors were fully aware that the natural resources that sustained them must be conserved for the sustenance of all future generations and all species.
The evolution of nature including humanity has shown itself to be incredibly adaptive and has survived many adverse conditions but we cannot adapt to no fresh water. Regardless of status or species all life is presently threatened by this same problem and unless solutions are found and applied, life and evolution on planet Earth may come to an abrupt end.
Rather than ignoring or running from this threat, as there is ultimately no where to run to, it would be to our best advantage to face it, understand it and use our best intelligence and resources to work on remedying the problems while still conceivably possible. Attention to water security is vital for global security.
This work need not be overall expensive. Using a small percentage of the resources we have now, to potentially save the whole for an indefinite span of time could be considered a worthy investment. Saving the regenerative nature of the fresh water cycle worldwide is a global long-term defence strategy. 1% of the defence budgets of all countries in the U.N could conceivably cover the expense. It is far more important than all economic concerns as it affects every area of life. Without money life will continue, without water it cannot.
It is very important that the interaction of different communities, cultures and knowledge systems from around the world takes place. This is a time of diverse communities working together in an interconnected manner for a common purpose and could be a way whereby many seemingly unrelated governments, organizations and individuals could join together in a concerted effort, to support a common global program for the benefit and greater good of the whole. However it is crucial that it is acted upon without delay. Even now it is a demanding task but still within the realm of possibility.
“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage; lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost‐effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” (UNCED, 1992 Principle 15)
View Referenced Paper: 'Protecting and Sustaining the Global Fresh Water Cycle'