Wednesday, June 04, 2008

World Water Crisis



Sorry folks this was meant for a different Blog but it's impact on world stability and our finances is still important even if not metals and economics centric.

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 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.

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