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A Harmonious Coexistence
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Water is life

Seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water.

Without it, life cannot function and exist.

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But we now face a water crisis.

At first glance, there appears to be an abundance of water on our planet. The US Geological Survey estimates there are:

  • 1.386 billion cubic kilometers of water on Earth, including the oceans and vapor.
  • But only 10.6 million cubic kilometers (0.76%) is the freshwater we need to drink, wash, and power industries.
  • Most are locked in polar ice caps, unavailable for direct use.

With global population tripling in the last 100 years, will there be enough freshwater to sustain us?

Per the World Water Council, freshwater extraction rates have increased sixfold in the same period, as rapid industrialization drives more resource-intensive consumption and growth.

  • Based on a 2019 UN report, water use has been increasing worldwide by about 1% more per year since the 1980s. The rising surge in demand will primarily be in developing economies.
  • Global water resources are unevenly distributed; per capita use of freshwater will still be below levels in developed countries, and by 2025, two billion people will face severe shortages.
  • That’s about 1 in every 4 persons in the world today.
  • By 2050, water use will be 20-30% over the current 4,600 cubic kilometers, further straining resources.
  • That’s over 2 billion Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • If the pools were to stack up…
  • If the pools were to stack up…
  • They would reach the moon.
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Demand will still be primarily for agriculture, but industrial and domestic users will take up an ever-increasing share of supply.

With Asia’s urban population expected to increase by 60% between now and 2025, the strain on water resources will only increase in the face of climate change. Dubbed the most water-stressed continent in the world, Asia is home to 65% of the global population, but only has 47% of the worldwide average of freshwater per person.

Development has drastically altered Asia.
Take Jakarta, for example.

The Indonesian capital’s population more than doubled from 4.5 million in 1970 to over 10 million in 2016. The demand for water, however, has increased by at least 40 million cubic meters (about 17%) in that period. Access to clean water has been further compromised by poor water and sanitation management. Only 1.9% of the city’s population is covered by a sewage network, with most dwellers relying on on-site facilities or simply dumping waste into rivers.


Photographer and filmmaker Sean Gallagher specializes in stories on the climate crisis and global environmental issues. Born and raised in the UK, Gallagher studied zoology at university and made a niche in documenting environmental, social, and cultural issues.

The seven-time Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant recipient has been traveling around Asia the past decade from his base in China and has witnessed first-hand how water-stressed communities struggle.

“A lot of my stories focus on individuals. Trying to tell the story of how real people are being affected by problems related to water.”

Sean Gallagher
Xixi Wetlands Hangzhou

Seeing the air around him turn thick and orange because of huge sandstorms in the parched, windswept plains of northwestern China drove him to bear witness to the deprivations water scarcity causes.

“When I found myself in that situation, experiencing [the storms] the way the locals were, and photographing [them], trying to convey what that felt like… That was an important moment. That really made me think: ‘I want to try to make people see this…’ to try to make people feel it as well through my photos.”

Gallagher believes part of the crisis is because people take natural resources – especially water – for granted, abusing these necessities of survival.

North AmericaSoutheast AsiaSouth America (eastern part)- 0- 1,000- 2,000- 3,000- 4,000- 5,000- 6,000- 7,000Annual water resources, km3Most of the world’s renewable water is concentrated in North America (especially Canada), Southeast Asia, and the eastern part of South America. - 0- 1,000- 2,000- 3,000- 4,000- 5,000- 6,000- 7,000Annual water resources, km3N AmericaSE AsiaS America (eastern part)Most of the world’s renewable water is concentrated in North America (especially Canada), Southeast Asia, and the eastern part of South America.

Data compiled by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization show that Europe and the Americas have the most renewable water resource per capita, while Asia and Africa have the least.

“I’ve seen so many examples where there is a clear misuse of water, either through agriculture or pollution from industry. It’s that lack of respect for that resource, which is a theme that runs through whatever country I visit,” shares Gallagher.

“We only have a finite amount of water for our daily needs – whether on a personal, community, or national level.”

come to the fore

A World Water Council report said irrigation takes up nearly 70% (2,500 of 3,800 cubic kilometers) of water drawn for human use. Industry uses about 20%, and municipal withdrawals take about 10%.

No more dry spells

In the Indian town of Delwara, summers are scorching, with little rain…

In the Indian town of Delwara, summers are scorching, with little rain. These arid conditions stress meager water supplies that reach only half the 7,000 townsfolk. Their primary source is the Palera lake, which is vulnerable to drought. Insufficient rainfall and the dilapidated condition of pond feeders, wells, and aquifers a few years ago left most of the town with very little water, forcing people to travel long distances for drinking water, leaving women and children with little time for work or school.

After three particularly dry summers, the community came together in 2004 to improve its water supply system. It desilted and deepened Palera lake to improve water retention, repaired and maintained feeder channels to improve access to water, and repaired the communal step well. The community now periodically comes together to maintain its water infrastructure, and have not suffered drought since.

Source: Bernard Oh - flickr

Tech and water saves the day

Water scarcity also affects areas with a seeming abundance of water. Rural Yala…

Water scarcity also affects areas with a seeming abundance of water. Rural Yala province, where the Ban Kuan community live, sits on a low-lying plain in southern Thailand, and 270 households there face drinking water shortages despite yearly floods.

Helped by the local government and a university, residents mapped water-retaining structures in the area by looking at satellite imagery and using global positioning systems to analyze the directions of water flow. With that information, they came up with a plan to increase agricultural production and reduce the problems of flood and drought. As a result, people have a better quality of life and can buy clean water at a lower price.

Source: udeyismail - flickr

Suntory’s solution

Japan’s Precious Water

While governments will undoubtedly take the lead in managing water supply, businesses have also responded.

In Japan, global beverage company Suntory has recognized that quality, clean, and sustainable water is a core part of its business. With this in mind, Suntory has partnered with experts in forestry, hydrology, and other environmental sciences to come up with strategies to optimize water regeneration.

In Japan, and as of March 2019, the company has established a network of 21 forest sites, totaling 12,000ha, as Natural Water Sanctuaries. The initiative started in 2003 in Japan and has been expanded to Suntory’s overseas operations in the US.

  • Volunteers on Forest Stewardship Program.
  • Suntory believes it is their responsibility to nurture healthy ecosystems in the forests that produce the quality groundwater.
  • Through first-hand experience with forestry, volunteers experience co-existence with nature.
  • Together, Suntory and its employees strive to protect water in all its forms, through preserving natural water sanctuaries for future generations.
  • As part of its Environmental Vision toward 2050, Suntory is doubling down efforts to reduce its environmental impact worldwide.
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Suntory's water sustainability efforts are driven by four principles

Mizu To Ikiru

At the heart of this commitment is Suntory’s promise: Mizu To Ikiru, which literally means “living with water.” This philosophy is the guiding light behind “To create harmony with people and nature.”

The next generation

Part of this mission lies in Mizuiku (water education) programs, which Suntory uses to teach the next generation the importance of water sustainability and the vital role forests play in nurturing groundwater, as well as to encourage children to think about water sustainability. These programs started in Japan in 2004 and have since been introduced in Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.

Ken Suzuki of Suntory Holdings Corporate Sustainability Department says:

“Precious groundwater can be grown in the forest if traced back (to its source),” says Ken Suzuki of Suntory Holdings’ Corporate Sustainability Department. “Rain that has fallen onto the mountains, over many years, becomes groundwater containing minerals as it passes through layers (of rock). If the forest soil is in a healthy condition (fluffy soil), the rain and snowmelt that has fallen slowly sink into the ground. Suntory is working on maintaining water sanctuaries in forests to help natural mechanisms function.”

How is groundwater recharged?

  • Precipitation (Rainfall)

    Condensed water vapors fall to the forest as rain drops.

  • Permeation

    Water permeates into the ground, and minerals dissolved during permeating the bedrock. It takes more than decades the water to reach underground of Suntory’s plant.

  • Water is pumped up

    Groundwater is pumped up, used water is processed and drained to minimize environmental impact.

  • Evapotranspiration

    Water flows the river to reach the sea, and eventually evaporated to form clouds.

“What caught my attention was how well that area was being protected and how the water and forests were being conserved. (Ken) would tell me about the strict processes Suntory carries out in monitoring the watersheds to ensure the Hakushu facility does not negatively impact the local ecosystem.”

“They monitor the water table at the base of the mountains so the water they extract isn’t being taken out at an amount that will damage the local ecosystem and affect the other people and businesses in the region who are relying on that water.”

“For a company like Suntory, whose business is based mainly on water, they are aware water is one part of this larger system they rely upon. The water is supported by the forests, which is supported by wildlife and that’s part of the local mountain ecosystem.”

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Suntory's Natural Mineral Water Southern Alps Hakushu Plant located at the base of Mount Kaikomagatake in Japan's Southern Alps. Snow-capped forests of Mount Kaikomagatake Ken Suzuki treks the forests of Mount Kaikomagatake Water drawn from the nearby Ojira River, considered to be one of Japan’s 100 most exceptional sources of water.

Gallagher also observed how the company is lowering its impact on the environment in other ways.

“They also emphasized their use of electric vehicles on the property to reduce pollution, how they reduce noise (pollution) for the local wildlife, and how they are trying to use more solar panels in their facilities to generate electricity from more sustainable sources.”

This systems-wide view, Gallagher feels, is part of an encouraging trend worldwide, as greater eco-awareness is spurring more companies to assess operations’ impact on the environment. Suzuki sums it up:

“Suntory is a business based on the blessings of nature. We are responsible for the sustainable use of “water” and to return the water we have received to nature.”