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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Water could be our next crisis

Water shortages are becoming a world wide issue as global warming and drought team up with rising populations, rising consumption and waste in a way that could make water one of the most contentious topics in next decades. Add to this a growing move to privatize and commoditize water and we have a new and compounding crisis to add to problems of peak oil and predicted famine.

An interesting article titled Coming soon, War for Water from India's Commodity online

After global warming, what is the biggest problem the globe is facing now? It is water. If you want to know the seriousness of the situation just take the case of India’s Cherrapunjee.

Cherrapunjee once boasted of being the ‘wettest place on earth’. Now also it gets around 40 feet of rain a year. However, Indian government is now seeking Israeli water management experts’ help to manage and retain water that today sluices off the area’s deforested landscape so that the area can get water when there is no rain.

Take another example of Rajasthan where lakhs of people (almost always women) spend hours per day carrying water up to several miles for their family’s needs because no source is close at hand.

On the other side of the globe, in Barcelona, Spain, people are paying a fine of $13,000 if they were caught watering their gardens.

According to media reports, a tanker ship is docked in Barcelona this month carrying 5 million gallons of precious fresh water and officials are scrambling to line up more such shipments to slake public thirst.

Again, Cyprus is ferrying water from Greece. Australian cities are buying water from farmers and building desalination plants.

Thirsty China plans to divert Himalayan water. In southern California, citizens are bracing to face water-rationing.

So, the world may go to war for water in the coming years. Experts say that water is the oil of this century.

Blue Gold
According to researchers, developed nations have taken cheap, abundant fresh water largely for granted. Now global population growth, pollution and climate change are shaping a new view of water as “blue gold”.

Global water markets, including drinking water distribution, management, waste treatment, and agriculture are a nearly $500 billion market and growing fast.

But governments pushing to privatize public water systems are colliding with a global “water is a human right” movement. Because water is essential for human life, its distribution is best left to more publicly accountable government authorities to distribute at prices the poorest can afford.

According to experts, the world is at a transition point where fundamental decisions need to be made by societies about how this basic human need is going to be provided. The profit motive and basic human need for water are just inherently in conflict.

What’s different now is that it’s increasingly obvious that the world is running up against limits to new fresh water supplies, says a water expert. It’s no longer cheap and easy to drill another well or dam another river.

The idea of “peak water” is an imperfect analogy. Unlike oil, water is not used up but only changes forms. The world still has the same 326 quintillion gallons.

But some 97 per cent of it is salty. The world’s remaining accessible fresh-water supplies are divided among industry (20 per cent), agriculture (70 per cent), and domestic use (10 per cent).

Meanwhile, fresh-water consumption worldwide has more than doubled since World War II to nearly 4,000 cubic kilometers annually and set to rise another 25 per cent by 2030.

Up to triple that is available for human use, so there should be plenty, the report says. But waste, climate change, and pollution have left clean water supplies running short.

The world has ignored demand for decades, just assuming supplies of water would be there. Now people have to learn to manage water demand and – on top of that – deal with climate change, too.

Population and economic growth across Asia and the rest of the developing world is a major factor driving fresh-water scarcity. The earth’s human population is predicted to rise from 6 billion to about 9 billion by 2050. Feeding them will mean more irrigation for crops.

Increasing attention is also being paid to the global “virtual water” trade. It appears in food or other products that require water to produce, products that are then exported to another nation. The US may consume even more water – virtual water – by importing goods that require lots of water to make. At the same time, the US exports virtual water through goods it sells abroad.

As scarcity drives up the cost of fresh water, more efficient use of water will play a huge role, experts say.

In the US today, about 33.5 million Americans get their drinking water from privately owned utilities that make up about 16 per cent of the nation’s community water systems.

But private companies’ promises of efficient, cost-effective water delivery have not always come true. Bolivia ejected giant engineering firm Bechtel in 2000, unhappy over the spiking cost of water for the city of Cochabamba.

Last year Bolivia’s president publicly celebrated the departure of French water company Suez, which had held a 30-year contract to supply La Paz.

.Private water industry officials say those pushing to make water a “human right” are ideologues struggling to preserve inefficient public water authorities that sell water below the cost to produce it and so cheaply it is wasted — doing little to extend service to the poor.

Global warming isn’t going to change the amount of water, but some places used to getting it won’t, and others that don’t, will get more. Water scarcity may be one of the most underappreciated global political and environmental challenges now. Water woes could have an impact on global peace and stability.

China & India
In the developing world – particularly in China, India, and other parts of Asia – rising economic success means a rising demand for clean water and an increased potential for conflict.

China is one of the world’s fastest-growing nations, but its lakes, rivers, and groundwater are badly polluted because of the widespread dumping of industrial wastes. Tibet has huge fresh water reserves.

While news reports have generally cited Tibetans’ concerns over exploitation of their natural resources by China, little has been reported about China’s keen interest in Tibet’s Himalayan water supplies, locked up in rapidly melting glaciers.

Himalayan water is particularly sensitive because it supplies the rivers that bring water to more than half a dozen Asian countries. Plans to divert water could cause intense debate.

Tibet is not the only water-rich country wary of a water-poor neighbour. Canada, which has immense fresh water resources, is wary of its water-thirsty superpower neighbour to the south.

But don’t look for a water pipeline from Canada’s northern reaches to the US southwest anytime soon. Water raises national fervor in Canada, and Canadians are reluctant to share their birthright with a United States that has mismanaged – in Canada’s eyes – its own supplies.

The lack of clean, safe drinking water is estimated to kill almost 4,500 children per day. In fact, out of the 2.2 million unsafe drinking water deaths in 2004, 90% were children under the age of five. Water is essential to the treatment of diseases, something especially critical for children.

The world water crisis is created by a confluence of factors including climate and geography, lack of water systems and infrastructure, and inadequate sanitation, something that 2.6 billion people (40% of the world’s population) lack access to.

The future will offer less fresh water as global warming melts glacial ice that supplies parts India, China, Tibet, Andean countries and even a portion of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Current discussions for or against bio fuels will also need to take into account water usage as the argument spreads from food or fuel to include water or fuel. Added to that, decisions will have to be made balancing the importance of water for agriculture vs. drinking , water for agriculture vs. industry and with water being commercialized the danger will be that without water for industry there may be no jobs so people can afford clean drinking water.

I know that water issues are becoming very touchy in the Andes as mining companies fight indigenous peoples to tap glacial waters for ore processing and in one case they wish to blast and move a glacier to get at gold below the ice.

Canadians will find themselves under more pressure to export water to the States, we will need more water for irrigation as temperatures rise, evaporation rates will increase which may shrink lakes, and our declining infrastructure will continue to waste more water each year through leaks.

We need to work to make access to water a human right, we need moves to curb personal/industrial use as well as waste like leaks. The scale of rotting infrastructure is immense in North America, as an example, last year Atlanta suffered a drought that was close to draining their lake, yet leaks accounted for 11 million Gallons a day, 18% of the total consumption.

People and industry must start paying realistic prices for water, without creating a barrier for basic uses like drinking and cooking. We need to support the third world with water management expertise as well as weening them of water intensive crop varieties like those Monsanto's and others flog and let farmers go back to crops that are actually adapted to their conditions. The same marketing ploys have convinced farmers to buy animals that require far more water than indigenous breeds would.

It starting to get pretty crazy out there as a series of overlapping crisises are poised to jump on civilization with both feet.Recommend this Post


JimBobby said...

Whooee! You ain't just whistlin' Dixie, WealthLord.

First thing that turned me off ethanol was the amount of fresh, clean H20 it requires.

If the Merkans decide they "need" our water, they'll take it and I don't reckon even King Steve's new, improved Canadian Forces will be able to stop 'em.

This whole bottled water scam has gotta stop. People waterin' their lush lawns and wastin' water with old-timey toilets has gotta stop, too.

Around my neck o' the woods, there's some farmers use a drip irrigation system. They got little hoses runnin' all through the fields and they drip water right at the base of the plants -- peppers and tomatoes and such, mostly. They also are doin' some stuff with poly tunnels making whole fields into greenhouses. I ain't so sure about that one wrt the plastic waste but it apparently retains water and moisture.

One thing I made sure I got for my family survival kit is a small scale water purification pump and extra filters. Got it from MEC. We got plenty of dirty water in the streams and ponds and flooded quarries around here.

WRT water as a human right, Canada took the shameful position of working against a UN motion aimed at that.

Yer boogin' buddy,

PaulHunt said...

Water Consumption is something we all need to take a look at. I work in a restaurant and its ridiculous how much water is wasted. When they thaw out food instead of putting it in water they keep it running constantly for an hour or two. But one place I'm proud of is my friend's car wash because they recycle nearly all their water. They have huge filters that they use to continuously use the same water and their car wash is by far the best and most popular one in my city, where there's nearly 20 carwashes in about 20 square miles. But the the price of water is being driven up by oil price. Mainly because of transporting it. This article I read correlates with the same issues that this article does. Its stresses using less oil and how much longer its going to last us at this pace and what its going to be like when it runs out. Sadly I think when we run out of oil we're going to run out of water cause oil drives everything. The name of the article is called The U.S. Oil Supply - A Look at Our Future Needs and is a great read. It think if you were interested by this article then this one I posted will keep your interest as well. Thanks ya'll I hope this helps people.

GAB said...

Paul, we are facing a number of shortages but few people look at the big picture of how one commodity impacts another, each person has their own pet niche but in reality each is related. The availability and cost of water, energy, metals, food can in different degrees impact the cost and availability of the others.

The simple truth is we consume to much of everything and with certain things like conventional oil where we are 2 million barrels a day short with growing demand we are seriously screwed.

The U.S. was expecting Canada to fill the gap but our courts have done the right thing and are questioning the over generous water licences given to the tar sand companies, the 100s of ducks dead in the tailings ponds is not gaining them any fans right now either.

I do follow the oil story very closely, as I do banking,financial issues and precious metals over at the Canadian Silver Bug site.

Thanks for the link,


Theresa said...

I've been reading the book Blue Gold lately, and the worldwide water situation is really quite frightening. I've cut down my water use a lot, but still use way more than my fair share - working on that.

This whole thing about the government reclassifying rivers and lakes into tailings ponds for mines really has me in an uproar as well - fired off a letter about that to the government this weekend. I fear that private water companies will then be hired to clean the water we poisoned and somehow manage to sell the water back to us at a vast profit, in bottles, while public water utilities are left to deteriorate.

And the number of boil water advisories that native people have to contend with in this country day in and day out is just shameful. The whole thing just sickens me.

Gab said...

Personal use, showers , washing, cooking are things I find harder to curb but in other areas I'm quite anal.

I've only wash my car if I have something like a wedding to go to and don't want to chance dirtying my close, 1 every 2 years or so. Otherwise let the rain rinse it off.

I never water or fertilize lawns, I don't like cutting them and wasting more time and energy so why encourage them to grow faster, duh!

I know there is more we can do but like carbon pricing most people won't do the right thing till it hurts.

The native issue bothers me too, we can send water purification systems to foreign lands in times of disaster, but the disaster these people live every day is ignored.

Steve said...

" . . . decisions will have to be made balancing the importance of water for agriculture vs. drinking , water for agriculture vs. industry and with water being commercialized the danger will be that without water for industry there may be no jobs so people can afford clean drinking water."

The market does this automatically via price signalling. Of course, state intervention frustrates this process.

"Importance" is a subjective valuation manifested as economic demand: a scarce resource is allocated to the high bidder (subject to the seller's consent). Claims of a different standard of "importance" are mere opinion--interesting, perhaps, but ultimately irrelevant unless backed by force.

"Canadians will find themselves under more pressure to export water to the States, we will need more water for irrigation as temperatures rise, . . ."

Under laissez-faire, such pressure would be in the form of bidding. Consequently, prices would reflect the interplay of demand and supply. If an American wants the water badly enough, he will outbid Canadians. Thus, water would be allocated justly.

"We need to work to make access to water a human right, we need moves to curb personal/industrial use as well as waste like leaks."

Access to water as a human right implies someone else's positive duty to provide it. There is no such duty apart from charitable (and voluntary) considerations. Water ought to be treated as any other scarce resource: i.e., as property. Those who do not have access must purchase it; water delivery is not free.

Steve said...

JimBobby wrote:

"This whole bottled water scam has gotta stop. People waterin' their lush lawns and wastin' water with old-timey toilets has gotta stop, too."

Not sure why you refer to bottled water as a scam. Who wants to drink smelly public water that is laced with fluoride, and perhaps E.coli? Not me. Remember Walkerton, Ontario?

A person who spends money to purchase water to irrigate his lawn or operate his antique toilet is not wasting it. This is proven by his decision to spend his money in this way. Public "ownership" of water sources complicates the issue, unfortunately.