From the years 2000 to 2003 I lived in a small Bolivian village that had no potable water. Though there was no water in taps, we did have the irrigation canal (pictured above), that made life possible and bearable. Living without indoor plumbing is a challenge, but it is possible, and millions of families around the world do it every day.
Naturally, hygiene is the first victim of a life without potable water. But, personal hygiene is less the victim than household hygiene. Washing dishes becomes a major chore, and your kitchen never feels quite clean. Water acquisition and use revolves around barrels and buckets instead of taps, as it is the custom to fill empty barrels with water and move it from one place to the next in a bucket.
Living without water changes your mentality about it; you learn not to take simple things for granted, like when you open the tap that water will come out. Water-borne parasites become a part of every day life, and children in particular suffer from diarrhea and dehydration, probably one of the biggest child killers in the world, right up there with HIV and malaria.
But, what made life bearable without plumbing was that there was already a local system in place for assuring daily access. These systems exist around the world, whether they involve walking for 2 hours a day to bring water to your home in buckets, or turning your tap and washing your hands, they are established and mostly effective. When these systems start to break down, because of population growth, climate change, deforestation, drought, or poor management, then the rules of the game change, and we are faced with two alternatives: quick and massive action, or conflict and violence.
The fact is, without water, people die, we shrivel up in a dirty and dehydrated mass, and we die. So predictions about the next World War may not be too far from the mark.