In this US election year, oddly enough, not many politicians, if any, are paying attention to the incoming water crisis. Think about this: water is the essence of life, sustaining every single being on this planet and without it there would simply be no plants, animals or people. As a few of us have written before, the global water supply isn’t just at risk, it’s already in crisis. To remind you, last year’s NYT article on Syria & Iraq is a harbinger of things to come.
Syria — The farmlands spreading north and east of this Euphrates River town were once the breadbasket of the region, a vast expanse of golden wheat fields and bucolic sheep herds. Now, after four consecutive years of drought, this heartland of the Fertile Crescent — including much of neighboring Iraq — appears to be turning barren, climate scientists say. Ancient irrigation systems have collapsed, underground water sources have run dry and hundreds of villages have been abandoned as farmlands turn to cracked desert and grazing animals die off. Sandstorms have become far more common, and vast tent cities of dispossessed farmers and their families have risen up around the larger towns and cities of Syria and Iraq.
The UN says political inaction and a lack of awareness are worsening the crisis. This warning comes from the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), which combines the efforts of 23 UN agencies. Water, we know too well, is one resource that can not be generated, it can only be preserved. Some (though not many) farsighted nations try to conserve each and every drop of water available because they are well aware of the fact that if this commodity is not prudently preserved and used, the human survival itself would be jeopardized and future wars would be fought for its possession and control. You might say, there are already several water wars going on in the Middle East, under territorial pretense (Lebanon/Israel is a prime example, one that has been flying under most radars).
Mathematically the water-scarcity problem appears drastic, with 97% of the world’s water stored in oceans, thereby rendering it useless for agricultural usage, industrial purposes and for human consumption, whilst only 3% of the world’s water is fresh, with a further 2% stored in ice caps, glaciers and inaccessible underground aquifers. Even the remaining one per cent of freshwater has limited availability with 0.36% considered inaccessible. The world is therefore mainly reliant on precipitation for its supply of fresh water, and the inconsistency of rainfall geographical areas is where the problem of water supply becomes so significant.
The amount of water in the world is finite. The number of us is growing way too fast and our water use is growing even faster. A third of the world’s population lives in water-stressed countries now. By 2025, this is expected to rise to two-thirds! Again, where is the political will you ask? Though “political will” is frequently invoked in policy discussions it is a highly ambiguous concept, and largely used in electoral contexts to prod undecided voters. Like climate change, politicians will wait until 1) water levels rise to their ankles, 2) someone will bite their collective asses in order to get action and greenlight green jobs & projects. But it may be too late as:
Increasingly unpredictable patterns of rainfall, related to climate change, pose a major threat to food security and economic growth, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) warns. Researchers at the Institute have found that Africa and Asia were most likely to be the worst affected and have called for greater investment in water storage and diversifying supply systems.
According to Water.org, 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease. The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
Closer to the USA, we have a report on climate-related impacts upon national security in Central America, which was released by the Royal United Services Institute of London , warned that an increase in water shortages and a decrease in food production in Mexico could lead not only to more people migrating in search of economic opportunities, but to more criminal activities.
For those who haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it. It’s called “Blue Gold: World Water Wars”. It’s only 22 or 23 minutes long and it is a compelling documentary on how the incoming water wars will be fought: it should be made mandatory watching for all politicians, worldwide.
Daily per capita use of water in residential areas:
- 350 liters in North America and Japan
- 200 liters in Europe
- 10-20 liters in sub-Saharan Africa
Over 260 river basins are shared by two or more countries mostly without adequate legal or institutional arrangements.
Quantity of water needed to produce 1 kg of:
- wheat: 1 000 L
- rice: 1 400 L
- beef: 13 000 L
And finally, if you have any spare money, a $20 donation will give someone potable water for 20 years. I am a monthly donor, and I approve of this message ;.)