“The World’s Water Crisis”: Tokyo is predicted to run out of water in the next few decades

A tap that has run dry. (Source: Image from Unsplash by Jouni Rajala)

A tap that has run dry. (Source: Image from Unsplash by Jouni Rajala)

Vanessa D. (12)

Living in Japan, we are never made to think of how fortunate we are to have access to water. This year, however, I watched a 19-minute documentary called the “World’s Water Crisis.” The episode is part of the television series, “Explained,” and is available on Netflix and Youtube. Of the many documentaries and films I have watched, none has impacted me as greatly as this documentary. It changed my perspective on water, and on a deeper level, consumer culture and my own role within it. 

The documentary opens in Cape Town, the first major city predicted to run out of water. In 2018, the once bustling city lay quiet under fear, as all taps were turned off and Capetonians queued to collect rationed water under the supervision of armed guards. Livelihoods in agriculture were lost, and food prices skyrocketed. The government’s assurances that the city would not run out of water were only empty promises. 

What most of us do not realize, however, is that in a matter of a few decades, Tokyo, too, will face its own water crisis. In fact, according to a BBC article, “The 11 Cities Most Likely to Run Out of Water,” Tokyo ranks tenth, along with metropolises such as Bangalore, Beijing, Moscow, London, and Miami. The most frightening fact, however, is that in 1990, it had been predicted Cape Town would run out of water within the next few decades. Twenty years later, the same thing is being predicted for Tokyo — the city will run out of water in the next few decades unless consumption habits are changed radically. Our generation will have to face a water crisis in our lifetimes unless we change our water consumption habits.

An image from the documentary showing an average burger takes 1,650 liters to produce. (Source: Netflix “Explained: World’s Water Crisis FULL EPISODE” Apr 17, 2020)

And yet, our consumerist society continues to waste water on vast scales. The documentary introduced me to the concept of “virtual water,” water that has been used to produce a product, through showing the audience the massive amounts of water that is poured into manufacturing the products we use every day. It takes an average of 130 liters to produce a cup of coffee, 1,650 liters for a burger, and 2,500 liters for a cotton shirt. I was astounded to discover the amount of water I use and waste unknowingly every day. The documentary made me understand the fundamental flaw of our consumer society. We have adopted the mindset that the material things we buy are expendable. From tossing out uneaten food, styrofoam lunch boxes, fast fashion after just a season of wearing, or even forgetting to turn off our lights, we have grown used to producing massive waste.

It is easy to ignore this issue when we still have running water. But our taps will run dry in the next few decades unless we radically change our water consumption habits. For instance, while Cape Town showed the world the horrific impacts of a water crisis, it also showed us the importance of our decisions and efforts. Capetonians cooperated to implement radical water conservation methods, cutting back daily water use per person to just 50 liters per person (for context, the average Japanese uses 320 liters of water a day). Capetonians were able to surface gradually from their water crisis, although the situation is still dire. 

We still have the choice to start changing our water consumption habits to avoid a water crisis. It can be simple things such as not flushing the toilet so often (an average flush uses about 20-25 liters of water) and reducing shower time by two minutes, to more fundamental changes in our decisions as consumers through reducing food and clothing waste. What we can learn most from the “World’s Water Crisis” is not that there is an approaching global crisis, but that we can change the course of this.