My old friend John M. asked for a bit of a primer on basic global water issues so over the course of the next few entries I’m going to do a big picture overview of the issues and some of the terminology. I don’t want this to be seen as a lecture…it’s a discussion and if there’s an issue I haven’t covered or if you think I might have something incorrect let me know. Send me an email or post a comment.
The source of most of this information is from personal and professional experience, research, reading and the 2003 United Nations World Water Development Report: Water for people, water for life”. Here is a link: http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr/
I’ll also offer some suggestions for reading…but I want to keep each of these postings short and sweet and not put anyone to sleep.
GLOBAL WATER BASICS: [fanfare music please…]:
Finite resource:For the most part, the amount of water in the hydrological cycle is the same as it was thousands of years ago. There are some who believe that environmental degradation issues such as rainforest deforestation have depleted some amount of water in the hydrological cycle. But for discussion sake lets call it about the same as it was before the industrial revolution. What has definately changed is human population.
- The global population is pushing past 6.2 billion people;
- Water demand does not grow linearly but exponentially. In the last 100 years the world’s population has tripled but water usage has grown six fold;
- Water is needed not just to drink but for agricultural irrigation, energy generation, and industrial manufacturing;
- A depleted water resource on a large regional scale is not a simple thing to correct. It is not like waiting for a big rainfall to fill up your cistern. We’ll talk about the Colorado River and its lost delta as an example in another entry.
Here are some pictures of the dying Aral Sea. It was once a freshwater sea but its waters were diverted for crop irrigation without thought to downstream consequences. The remaining vanishing waters are highly toxic with pesticides and the growing desert sands are also toxic.
fishing vessels that once fed families are now adrift on a growing desert…
Scarcity: Water is not distributed evenly around the world and not necessarily where the people are.
- Canada has 10% of the world’s freshwater and 1% of the worlds population;
- Population centers are becoming more urbanized [high concentration of people in small geographic area]. The need for water grows. Los Angeles has extended its straws for water hundreds of miles and through mountain ranges to get water [Colorado River for example].
Water purity and health: Human and industrial waste become more and more of an issue as our population grows. Treating the waste is paramount and in developed countries we are doing this….but in developing countries this is not always the case.
- In developing countries four-fifths of all the illnesses are caused by water-borne diseases, with diarrhea being the leading cause of childhood death.
These are some of the overarching issues under which most of the global issues fall:
- Our freshwater is essentially a finite resource that is controlled by the natural hydrological cycle. It is not unlimited but it appears so…the paradox of plenty is paucity of attention;
- The availability of freshwater, its uneven concentration throughout the world, and the human needs for freshwater are the issues we need to address
We’ll talk about the geopolitical conflicts already in play and those emerging, human health and sanitation, water mining, desalinization, conservation, education.
I get passionate about this issue because this is a fundamental carrying capacity issue that affects all countries and our shared sense of security. For years some forward thinkers have been saying the wars of the 21rst century will be about water. Check out some of these articles:
We can avoid these conflicts if we can be forward thinking and take action early. If the issue of national security feels too esoteric for you remember what happened at the New Orleans Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. There was no potable water and the veneer of humanity that surrounds our souls was stripped off and civilized behavior crumbled.
No water…no civility…no civilization
…Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink…