Subject to temperature, water can be solid, liquid, or gas. Essential to our existence and growth, we have spent long, arduous, and costly efforts in finding, using, changing, controlling, transporting, and wasting it.
Human agriculture is dated back 23,000 years to the Sea of Galilee but it was the need to organize different human skills, starting 8,000 years ago, to irrigate along the Euphrates, Hwang Ho, Nile, and Tigris rivers that gave birth to civilizations. Waterways gave us highways to meet, befriend. and trade with other groups. They also gave us battlegrounds and areas to pollute.
Precipitation, rain, snow, and hail, depending on air currents and the distribution of land masses, gave us varied vegetation such as the once lush, but fragile, Sahara that covers ⅓ of Africa. Over a period of 300 years around 5,500 years ago it turned to desert with a debate as to what percentage of the blame should go to the earth’s orbital changes, to the introduction of herds of domestic grazing animals, and to deforestation.
Earth’s tilt, now 23.5̊, varies from 22 to 25̊ over a 41,000 year cycle. Seasonal precession has a 26,000-year cycle. The human-caused melting of the Greenland ice cap can change tilt 26 cms/year.
We have made impressive gains in bringing water, fit for drinking, cooking, and washing, to 89% of the world but today there are more people with cell phones than toilets. Priorities? Open defecation is still practiced by 892 million people. Water has many categories to understand:
Aquifers: Many a gift of the melting of the Pleistocene ice age that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago, 21 of the 37 largest current aquifers are drying due to increasing human populations draining more water. The majority of depleted aquifers are past the point of current natural replenishment. The three most stressed are in the Middle East, the border region between India and Pakistan, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin of North Africa.
Availability: About 800 million people lack access to water suitable for drinking, cooking, and hygiene.
Conflicts: 1. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), founded by 9 out of 10 riparian countries in 1999, has achieved some successes Yet, since 2007, diverging interests between upstream and downstream countries have brought negotiations to a standstill, pitting Egypt and Sudan) against upstream riparians, especially Ethiopia. In 2015, trilateral negotiations over a major dam under construction in Ethiopia may be a restart.
2. Yemen’s water availability is declining dramatically. Corruption, nepotism, and war have inflicted immense nation-destroying sufferings that demand immediate cessation.
3. The Euphrates-Tigris Basin is shared among Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran in parts of the Tigris basin. Since the 1960s, unilateral irrigation plans changing the flows of the rivers, plus political tensions have strained relations. Formal agreements are still pending.
4. Afghanistan’s efforts to harness the waters of the Helmand and Hari rivers have alarmed Iran as a threat to its water security in its eastern and northeastern provinces.5. In the Mekong basin, especially in China and Laos, enormous expansion of dam-building for hydro power increases tensions as countries downstream fear the negative impacts, from greater flooding to seasonal lack of water. The Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) effectiveness has so far been limited due to its lack of enforcement powers and China’s reluctance to join as a full member.
6. The long-standing conflict over water from the Cauvery River between the Indian states Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has recently resurfaced because of drier climate conditions. The implications are not only legal battles, but also violent protests following decisions to alter water distribution between the two states.
7. Somalia droughts cause herders to sell more of their livestock, resulting in plummeting prices and deteriorating rural incomes. Widespread poverty and lack of economic alternatives provide incentives for illicit activities and for joining armed groups such as Al Shabaab, which offer cash and other benefits to their fighters. Especially the record drought of 2011 is believed to have swelled the ranks of the militant Islamist group.
8. The Turkish-Armenian case is a prominent example of how two co-riparians can put their tensions aside, work together in their mutual interest, and share trans boundary waters equitably.
9. Egypt’s water use exceeds its renewable resources, mainly Nile fresh water inflows. Water stress has increased with rapid population growth, rising temperatures, and heavier water consumption. This strains the economy, increases internal strife, and harms relations with other states along the Nile.
10. Cochabamba, Bolivia: In 2000, privatization of the drinking water prompted violent protests, escalating into the ‘Water War of Cochabamba’ which killed at least nine people. Eventually, the city’s water was re-nationalized and access to water received new legal backing. However, dwindling water supplies induced by global climate change, over-consumption, and technological deficiencies continue to heavily strain the city of Cochabamba.11. Syria: Water stress is a contributing factor to the brutal slaughter.
Cost Sharing: Heavy water-using plants are attracted by low rates. For instance, in 2015, 3 Quebec aluminum plants paid $2,500 for 1 billion litres, while homes in Toronto & Ottawa paid millions. Quebec companies paid $3.2m for >1 trillion litres of fresh water, 85% lower than Ontario. European rates are 30 to 140 times higher.
Deaths and Disease: Almost a thousand children die daily from preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases. Stunted growth affects 22% of children under 5, particularly in Bangladesh, Guatemala, Niger, and Yemen, reported by the World Bank in 2017. It was 40% in 2000.
Organizations Water Oriented: Laura Newcomer, in the 22 March 2013 issue of the health website “Greatest” describes 27 organizations, mostly non-profit, bringing clean water to deprived areas.
Piped Water: Some countries, struggling with population growth, fail to maintain infrastructure. Nigeria provided piped water to fewer than 10 % of city dwellers in 2015, down from 29 % 25 years earlier. In Haiti, only 7 % of households have piped water, compared to 15 % previously. In some countries, tap water is even more unsafe than pond water. About 80 % of Bangladesh's piped supplies are contaminated by E.coli bacteria,
Water Footprint: Coined by Anjen Ysbert Hoekestra and co-workers in the Netherlands’ Water Footprint Network, is the amount of water used to grow or make something, be it an automobile, a book, a cell phone, a tree, or a glass of wine. It takes 53 gallons of water to make one serving of latte coffee. And an average of 4,500 gallons to power one 60-watt bulb for a year for 12 hours a day.
Taking a random look at wine and South Africa, we see a water-stressed county with 7 million people lacking adequate clean water and needing 126 billion more litres a year which is 1/3 the usage of the profitable wine industry centred on Cape Town. Most of the water used to make a typical glass of wine is lost to evaporation, with a small amount stored in the grapes, and the rest unsuitable for reuse. While the evaporated water will eventually become rain, it is unlikely to fall over the same vineyards, so it is effectively lost to the region, often to the salt ocean. A typical 25-ounce (750 ml) bottle of wine has a water footprint of nearly 200 gallons (750 litres). The region’s 2016 wine exports involved the net consumption of 113.2 billion gallons (428.5 billion litres) of water lost to the region.
South Africa’s wine country has been enduring a severe drought yet it exported 428.5 million litres of wine in 2016 to Europe and North America., Hoekestra’s team worked out that it takes between 26 to 53 gallons (100 to 200 litres) of water to grow the grapes and process them into one five-ounce (125 ml) glass of wine. On top of that, the Western Cape exported about 231,000 tonnes of citrus fruits, mostly oranges, in 2017. The water footprint of one orange averages 80 litres so those exports used up 115 billion litres of the province’s water.
South Africa also exports oil products, minerals, and metals, all of which require enormous amounts of water. For example, it exported 211 tonnes of platinum in 2012. That’s like an export of 45 billion gallons (170 billion litres) of water—the estimated amount of water needed to mine and process the metal.
South Africa is now building desalination plants . These are expensive and energy intensive. It would be more cost effective to shift to less-water intensive crops and to reuse treated wastewater. Currently, Cape Town reuses just five percent of its treated wastewater, compared to Israel’s 85 percent. Israel has also eliminated water-thirsty crops like cotton and made major improvements in water efficiency to free up more water for population growth, creating other problems.
To produce one bottle of soda it takes 175 litres, broken down into: growing natural sweetener 30, growing coffee beans for caffeine 53, processing flavoring 80, plastic bottle 5.3, water added .5, manufacturing and packaging 7.
Other large countries with growing populations, such as China and India, also export staggering volumes of virtual water, often while facing considerable water scarcity problems at home. This simply cannot continue.
Polluted Water: Of the waste water from human activity dumped into waterways, 80% has no pollution removal.
Too Much Water: Following California’s worst drought and wildfire season in history, heavy rainfall in the 2017-18 winter produced mud slides that killed more than 20 people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, only to be dwarfed by the fire disasters of 2018. Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana in August 2017, causing $125 billion in damage, dumped more water out of the sky than any storm in U.S. history. Some 890,000 families sought federal disaster aid, most often from flooding in the Houston area. At the start of March, five states were under a state of emergency (Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, and Michigan) due to heavy rainfalls and flooding.
Rapid population growth, building on floodplains or low-lying coastal regions, and climate change are the biggest reasons why flooding is affecting more people and causing ever greater damage.
Climate change due to burning fossil fuels has added 46 % more heat-trapping carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But even if fossil-fuel use ended today, that additional heat in the atmosphere will put 10 times more Americans at risk of being flooded out by rivers over the next 20 years.
“More than half of the United States must at least double their protection level within the next two decades to avoid a dramatic increase in river flood risks,” says lead-author Sven Willner from Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Rainfall changes will increase river flood risks across the globe, In South America, the number of people affected by river flooding will likely increase from 6 to 12 million. In Africa, the number will rise from 25 to 34 million, and in Asia from 70 to 156 million.
But these findings are based on the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Humanity added 45 billion tons in 2017, and will likely add that much or more in 2018. Without limiting human-caused warming to well below 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees Celsius), the river flood risk in many regions will be beyond what we can adapt to, Climate change is also causing sea levels to rise, resulting in substantial coastal flooding during high tides and storms. More than 13 million Americans living on the coasts will be forced to move by 2100 because of rising ocean levels, according to a 2017 study by Mathew Hauer, a demographer at the University of Georgia. About 2.5 million will flee the region that includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. Greater New Orleans loses up to 500,000 people; the New York City area loses 50,000, the study estimated. These coastal migrants will likely go to cities on high ground with mild climates, such as Atlanta, Austin, Madison, and Memphis. “If people are forced to move because their houses become inundated, the migration could affect many landlocked communities as well,”World Water Day: In 1993 the United Nations designated March 22 as the annual World Water Day to bring awareness of the importance of fresh water and to promote its sustainability and equitable distribution and management.
Awareness: In spite of enormous sums spent, and wasted, on electioneering in the USA, only half of eligible voters actually vote with the highest ever being 50.4% back in 1914, compared to up to 95% in other democracies. This lack of participation, only 48% in November 2018, warns that the US democracy is in dire danger. US elections are too awkward, far too costly, and manipulative, permitting them to be bought by minority vested interests. Endless, repetitive, and costly TV sound bites are more annoying than informative. Electioneering needs to be limited to tax-supported debates with all issues, especially environmental, included. Elections need to be on a holiday with easily-accessible voting booths. Truthout, a non-profit progressive news outlet founded in 2000 in California reports, 21 Sep 2018, that that the Corporate media gives almost no air time to climate disruption and that, according to Greenpeace, the Koch brothers have given since 1997 at least $100,343,292 to groups denying climate change.
Costs: As the need for clean water and sanitation is greater in rural areas, the World Bank claims that we need to quadruple spending to $150 billion annually. To do this we need close co-operation between governments and the private sector, including the Gates Foundation with its great work on sanitation.
This demands a return to globalization by the United States that leads the world in so many beneficial and harmful avenues. The beneficial ones get much deserved praise. The harmful ones scream for more immediate attention. They include debt, incarcerations, guns, greed, equality, climate-change deniers, and endless wars.
Saving Water: Grow and produce things in the right place. Water-intensive crops like cattle, almonds, rice, cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans, alfafa, and cotton should be concentrated in water-rich regions. This demands a mutually-agreed system of trade, policed by a dynamic and fair World Trade Organization.
In a global economy, drought can be a big issue even in water-rich countries, because of a growing dependence on imports. Around 38 percent of the European Union’s water consumption is reliant on water availability in other countries, to grow and manufacture the products that it imports.
The World Bank concludes its report by asserting the high cost of clean water risks jeopardizing the ability of countries to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of providing access to safe and affordable sanitation for all by 2030, It is a problem that demands current and continuing attention.Ye Olde Scribe firstname.lastname@example.org