“There is simply no way to overstate the fresh water crisis on the planet today.” Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water
A water crisis of catastrophic proportions is about to explode. Fresh water is a finite resource. The amount of fresh water supply provided by the hydrological cycle does not increase. Water everywhere on the planet is an integral part of the global hydrologic cycle. Precipitation originates as evaporation from land and the oceans. Soil moisture is used by plants, which return more moisture to the atmosphere, which then returns to Earth as rain or snow. Barlow and Clark add, “Unless we dramatically change our ways, between one-half and two-thirds of humanity will be living with severe freshwater shortages within the next quarter-century.
Humans share the Earth with other creatures who also need water, therefore, a water shortage is also a crisis for wildlife. Of the 25-biodiversity hotspots designated by Conservation International, 10 are located in water-short regions.
The World Is Running Out of Fresh Water
There are two principal signs of stress as the demand for fresh water outruns the supply.
Rivers are running dry. Many major rivers—including the Colorado, Ganges, Indus, Rio Grande, and Yellow—are so over-tapped that they now run dry for part of the year. Freshwater wetlands have shrunk by about half worldwide. In 1972, the Yellow River in China failed to reach the sea for the first time in history. That year it failed on 15 days; every year since, it has run dry for a longer period of time, until in 1997, it failed to reach the sea for 226 days. The story is similar with all of China’s rivers. China has almost one-quarter of the world’s population, but only 6 percent of its fresh water. In addition, these rivers are replenished by the glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains—but these glaciers are all disappearing.
Water tables are falling on every continent. Aquifer depletion is a new problem. Water tables are falling from the over-pumping of groundwater in large portions of China, India, Iran, Mexico, the Middle East, North Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. India has the highest volume of annual groundwater overdraft of any nation in the world. In most parts of the country, water mining is taking place at twice the rate of natural recharge, causing aquifer water tables to drop by 3 to 10 feet per year. This enormous shift from sustainable water use to over-mining began when farmers changed from having oxen withdraw the water from a well, to using electric or diesel-driven motors.
Seventy percent of all the fresh water is used for irrigation
We are creating a “food bubble” economy
According to the Earth Policy Institute roughly 160 million tons of the world’s grain supply is now being produced by over-pumping, which cannot go on indefinitely. S cores of countries are depleting their aquifers, including China, India, and the United States, which together produce half of the world grain harvest. One third of a ton of grain sustains one person for one year (current global average). Therefore, 160 million tons of grain will feed 480 million people. Of the world’s current population of six billion, we are feeding 480 million with grain produced with the unsustainable use of water. We are feeding ourselves with water that belongs to the next generation.
Farming needs to be done by using drip-sprinklers and other micro-irrigation systems, by changing cropping patterns and growing methods to get more crop per drop, and by adopting high-yielding and early-maturing crop varieties.
Twenty Percent of Fresh Water is used by Industry.
Ten percent of fresh water is used for residential purposes.
Showers account for about 20 percent of total indoor water use. The EPA says that by replacing standard 4.5-gallon-per-minute showerheads with 2.5-gallon-per-minute heads, which cost less than $5 each, a family of four can save approximately 20,000 gallons of water per year. Outdoor residential water use varies greatly, but on average, nationally, lawn care accounts for about 32 percent of the total residential outdoor use. Other outdoor uses include washing automobiles, maintaining swimming pools, and cleaning sidewalks and driveways.
It takes 2.5 billion gallons of water per day to irrigate the world’s golf courses.
Causes of the Shortage of Fresh Water
Privatization of Water
Corporations are using the World Trade Organization to force Third World countries to privatize water markets and grant corporations access to them. The World Bank has made privatization of urban water systems a condition for receiving new loans and debt restructuring. There are places where people are resisting this trend to privatization of water. In August 2002, the Nicaraguan National Assembly became the first parliament in the world to suspend private profit making in the use of water.
Commercial water export would only perpetuate the basic problem that has caused the “water crisis” in the first place: responding to people’s growing demands for water by increasing supply. This demand has led to the draining of lakes, the depletion of aquifers and destruction of aquatic ecosystems around the world.
Pollution of Fresh Water
More than 60 percent of U.S. coastal rivers and bays are moderately to severely degraded by nutrient runoff. Every eight months, nearly 11 million gallons of oil run off our streets and driveways into our waters--the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Water sheds, inland forests, agricultural areas, and population centers are the source of about 80% of marine pollution. This runoff creates harmful algae blooms and leads to the degradation or loss of seagrass and kelp beds as well as coral reefs, all of which are important for spawning and nursery grounds for fish. (Two-thirds of marine mammals are now classified as threatened species under the IUCN Red List.)
Large-scale farms which mass-produce animals, confining them in crowded feedlots and factory-style barns, create massive amounts of pollution. According to the EPA, U.S. animal feedlots produce about 500 million tons of manure each year, more than three times the amount of human waste. This animal waste, (with antibiotics) also ends up in groundwater and surface water in huge quantities.
The expanding loss of wetlands means these runoff nutrients aren’t processed and purified by nature before they enter rivers, streams, and ultimately estuaries.
In China, 80 percent of the major rivers are so degraded that they no longer support fish. The Yangtze River is contaminated with 40 million tons of industrial waste and raw sewage every day, and the water in the Yellow River is so polluted that it cannot be used even for irrigation. The rainfall on the European continent is so full of toxic pesticides that much of it is too dangerous to drink
Polluted water and Health. The World Health Organization has identified clean water as the single most important factor in determining public health. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that “Water-related diseases kill a child every eight seconds.” U.N. Secretary-General also said, “One person in six lives without regular access to safe drinking water. Over twice that number— 2.4 billion—lack access to adequate sanitation.” He said that big investments were needed in everything from sewage treatment to irrigation.
The Water crisis is the most pervasive, most severe, and most invisible dimension of the ecological devastation of the earth. Vandana Shiva, Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit. P. 1
Protecting the Oceans
The Pew Oceans Commission—with a nonpartisan membership including fishermen, scientists and elected officials—recommended "a serious rethinking of ocean law, informed by a new ocean ethic." The report concluded that having “focused on oceans as a frontier with vast resources ... we have failed to conceive of the oceans as our largest public domain, to be managed holistically for the greater public good.” “What we once considered inexhaustible and resilient is, in fact, finite and fragile.”
Lester Brown says to create the needed changes, we must eliminate subsidies that create artificially low prices of water, and raise water prices to the point where they will reduce pumping to a sustainable level. Low-income urban consumers can be protected with "lifeline rates" that provide for basic needs at an affordable price. The second required change, Brown says, is to stabilize population, especially in water-short countries. Most of the (at least) 3 billion people to be added worldwide by mid-century, will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages. Without these changes, he says, “there may not be a humane solution to the emerging world water shortage.”
Some suggest that we use desalination, but in their article “Who Owns Water,” Barlow and Clark say that d esalination “is prohibitively expensive, highly energy intensive--using the very fossil fuels that are contributing to global warming--and produces a lethal byproduct of saline brine that is a major cause of marine pollution when dumped back into the oceans at high temperatures.”
"Future food security may depend not only on stabilizing population, raising water productivity, and stabilizing climate, but on doing all these things at wartime speed. "
LINKS To Water SitesFOOTNOTES
Blue Gold by Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke (p. 25)
Who Owns Water?
Worldwatch Magazine Jan-Feb 2003, p. 15.
November 23, 2001-3 Earth Policy Institute World Grain Harvest Falling Short by 54 Million Tons Water Shortages Contributing to Shortfall Lester R. Brown
Blue Gold p.42
Blue Gold p. 30
Barlow and Clarke – quoting researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Environmental Science and Technology p. 31
The Pew Oceans report is online at www.pewoceans.org. The Defying Ocean’s End conclusions are online at www.conservation.org.
http://www.pewoceans.org/. or http://www.pewoceans.org/oceans/index.asp
Who Owns Water? by Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke [from The Nation September 2, 2002 issue] http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20020902&s=barlow