UN studies indicate a clear link between poverty and access to water: those individuals who lack adequate water resources are far more likely to be poor, and those who are poor are far more likely to lack adequate water resources. Today, infrastructure development projects such as dams and mines are diverting essential water resources from farmers and fishers, threatening their lives and livelihoods, and plunging them into poverty.
Major threats to water
There are numerous struggles over the world's freshwater supply. Oxfam focuses its resources on two major threats to rural communities.
Rapid population growth and aggressive development in East Asia pose huge threats to water. Throughout the region, water is being dammed up or rerouted to meet transportation and energy needs.
This is the same water that an estimated 75 percent of people in the Lower Mekong Basin rely on for drinking, fishing, and farming. When construction begins upriver, its negative effects can far outweigh the positive. People drown. Fish supplies dwindle. Water quality goes down. Land gets washed away.
One of the biggest challenges to managing this problem is the transboundary nature of water. When China erects a large hydropower dam on the Mekong, it does so without regard for people living downriver. Because the dams are miles away, affected communities often have no warning, no idea what's causing the change in the river, and no course of action or reaction.
Oil, gas, and mining
Land-based industrial developments also threaten water supplies. Not only does mining use large amounts of water in the extraction and refinement processes, but it also can have devastating effects on nearby water resources.
For starters, acid mine drainage, which raises acid levels in rivers and lakes, is harmful to wildlife and people. Some mines regularly dispose of toxic waste in rivers, lakes, and oceans. Others store soupy, semi-solid mine waste in dammed-up reservoirs, which often leak or burst. Cyanide used in separating ore from earth and rock can also pollute water resources and kill fish and other wildlife.
The results for communities are disastrous. Contaminated lands and a lack of clean water for irrigation put farmers out of business. Contaminated water supplies can further cause enormous public health problems, including chronic asthma, lead poisoning, skin diseases, and other ailments.