TOPIC: Water Scarcity

It's a rather frightening concept. Mostly, it is spoken about briefly; always mentioned in the EU conference rooms, yet never fully addressed. Inside the walls of the Canadian Embassy, it is almost a joke: more troops should be trained to keep out the Americans when they come for Canada's abundant fresh water. And the best the WWF can advise is to turn off the faucet while washing your teeth.

Water scarcity, agrees the Commissioner for the Environment, is a key issue if we are to talk about stability and our future. The issue is tied with resource efficiency, one of the largest topics on the Commissioner's policy agenda. Resource efficient countries are more competitive. Furthermore, when it comes to something as essential as water, countries should not only want to be competitive: they need to be competitive in order to retain their sovereignty. Water security is becoming as much a sensitive political issue as food security. Parallel, water sovereignty is as much a necessity as food sovereignty, if not more; it cannot be abandoned, less the country become dependent on water imports for its very survival. Such a trade dependency might well be a path towards interdependence unlike any we have seen before and in that token, peace, but a peace built on extremely tight tensions. A Representative of Parliament was not far off when she warned water could be the spark to throw the entire planet into war.

The amount of fresh water on earth is finite. 2.5% of our planet water is not salty, and of that, only 0.3% is available to us, the rest locked up in ice and groundwater. We, however, as a population, are growing in what seems to be an indefinite exponential function. According to the UN, an individual needs a minimum of 50 litres of water a day, for "drinking, washing, cooking, and sanitation." Furthermore, the shift towards a western diet around the world is rapidly depleting supplies: one kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least fifteen cubic meters of water, compared to a kilo of cereals, which need only three cubic meters. This is serious when 70% of all water is used for agriculture. With a rapidly increasing population with heightened needs and a dwindling supply of fresh water, we need to stop and think.

And these statistics are only getting worse with the rapidly advancing effects of climate change. One-third of the world population lives in water-stressed countries. By 2025, it will be two-thirds of the world population. The most drastic example is Lake Chad, in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has shrunk 95% since the mid 1960s. The global temperatures are rising, and many of the traditional fresh water sources are vanishing. Groundwater, lakes, and rivers are drying up. Furthermore, the large scale melting of glaciers is causing rivers to run out. This is an extremely pressing problem for the Ganges River in India given the melting rate of the Himalayan Glaciers. Mexico City, built upon the lake it uses as the city's main source water has sunk nine meters into its foundations since 1900.

However, there are many optimists when it comes to water scarcity. The simple reason is the nature of climate change. Climate change means exactly what the word entails. Forget global warming. What we are apt to see is extreme distribution of water. The average yearly rainfall has been steadily increasing in Uganda, a region not used to large water management. In Uganda, the water is lost in runoff and puddles, polluted and unfit for human use. The transmission of diseases in the region is increasing: in the world, more than five million people die of waterborne diseases each year. But all of this is due to a mismanagement of resources. Climate change entails a shift. While countries that traditionally had benefited from large stable water supplies now fear drought, countries traditionally more dry, fear flooding.

The UN-backed World Commission estimated an additional $100 billion a year would be needed to tackle water scarcity worldwide, a greater amount by far than the $20 billion needed for AIDS and HIV. And that would mean $100 billion well spent. The European Union put aside 4.2 billion euros to divert water from the Rio Ebro to supply the area around Valencia, Almeria, and Murcia. However, the plan was scratched when the Zapatero government came to power in 2004 and wisely listened to the environmentalists' pleas: the plan would not only threaten the fragile delta of the river, but also presented a gross misuse of water; most of the water would be used for golf fields to be placed on the banks of the re-routed river as per investment priority. Desalination technology is now seeing a large investment from the government, with so far promising results.

The thing is…we have enough water. Yes, the temperatures are rising and the fresh water caught in the artic ice is melting into the ocean. But much larger is the problem of water misuse. What we can't afford are ill-drafted plans such as the Euro Plan above. The solution to the increasing scarcity of water is to manage the water we do have efficiently.

Efficient and sustainable practice keeps on being the answer. Let's honour our self-given name Homo sapiens, the wise ones, and be intelligent about how we use our resources. The right way is not always the easy way, and it may at times demand cleverness and a sacrifice of our comfortable laziness. We are given one planet, let's use it wisely.

Water is what makes our planet inhabitable. Without water, there is not only nothing to drink, but nothing to irrigate crops with, and thus nothing to eat. Without water, there is no life.

Maybe next time you run the tap while washing your teeth, think twice about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment