Rural Ugandan children fetch contaminated drinking water. Image credit: The Water School
Until recently the super elite of this planet considered money the most precious commodity to control but they have been changing their minds and buying up as many water sources as possible.
When asked to rank the most important service, 95 percent of U.S. voters put water in first place followed by electricity, heat, Internet, cell phone, landline phone, cable TV, and cooling systems, respectively. Everyone instinctively understands the importance of water but collectively we have been ignoring the warning signs indicating that a huge percentage of humanity is not going to be staying with us much longer as food and water shortages impact us like dual sledge hammers. All of our projections of vastly increased populations are going to run into the brick wall of water scarcity and terrible water quality.
The depletion of global water resources is more rapid, severe, and complex than anyone anticipated. In many areas of the world like the United States and China, where people have enjoyed enough water to build their industrial civilizations, those water resources are running lower every year. The unshakable thirst for water is now colliding with the reality of shrinking supplies. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population growth in the last century with many areas in actual danger of running out or becoming seriously and chronically short of water.
As water gets more and more precious, the potential for dispute and conflict only grows. If during the last 100 years we witnessed the rise and fall of nations over oil, this next hundred years will be determined by water. It is a key component of national security. Life runs out when water becomes unavailable and that is already happening in certain parts of the world. The competition for water could even make life in some of America’s largest cities nearly unbearable for residents. Only fools in the future will take water for granted. It is going to become more expensive as it’s increasingly perceived as the precious resource it is.
In the United States 36 states already expect to be facing water shortages by 2013. On October 19, 2010 the water level in Lake Mead, the massive reservoir that fills the taps of millions of people across the Southwest, reached a record low, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation reported. Even as thunderstorms dropped rain on the Las Vegas area, Lake Mead’s level dropped to 1,083.18 feet above sea level just before noon on Sunday, and fell farther, to 1,083.09 feet. Lake Mead is still eight feet above the level at which rationing could go into effect in Nevada and Arizona.
Water is the New Oil
“Russia is considering becoming the world’s top supplier of fresh water as growing demand turns it into a strategic resource. The future global water crisis is indeed a gloomy thing: by 2030 half of world’s population will face a fresh water deficit, according to the UN’s World Water Assessment Program forecast. Thirsty nations will take up arms against their saturated neighbors. People drinking polluted water will become ill. Ecologies will die out when the rivers feeding them are depleted for the sake of human farms and factories. . Russia has the world’s second-largest water reserves after Brazil (it’s hard to compete with the Amazon River, but having in your territory the world’s largest lake, Baikal, which contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water, really helps).”
Water is the New Oil reads the headline in this article about Russia and that is no understatement especially when you look at the fact that water can actually replace oil as a source of energy. But that is not the point, at least not yet. The point is that life is going to change dramatically simply because there is not going to be enough water for agriculture, industry, and human consumption at the same time
The water security of our planet is running into a brick wall according to a comprehensive survey of waterways released in September of 2010. At risk are the water supplies of nearly 80 percent of humanity, and two-thirds of the world’s river habitats. Rivers, wetlands, lakes, and the life that relies on them, are at risk around the world because of a variety of stresses, including overuse of water, pollution, pesticide runoff, introduction of exotic species, and overfishing, according to the new study, published in the journal Nature. Nearly all European water resources are highly threatened by environmental factors, as are most in the U.S., Central Asia, the Middle East, subcontinent India, and eastern China.
According to water experts at the United Nations, more than 45 percent of the world’s populations – more than 3 billion people – are already in need of more clean water. They cite research from The World Bank that shows that more than 80 countries now have water shortages that threaten their health and economies. Will we reach that point where the rich have clean water to drink and the rest not? The same question is already answered when it comes to food with a billion doing without. Water and food, food and water; there is no doubt that with each passing year more and more will do without and they will die.
There is a widening gap between water supplies and needs in the world that is coming into full crisis mode now. Certain areas of the world are already there and people have to flee, becoming water refuges. The Johnson Foundation has released a report called “Charting New Waters” showing that water shortages can undermine the U.S. economy. “We’re at a crossroads,” said S. Curtis Johnson. “We can no longer treat water as if it were merely a cheap and non-strategic resource with infinite supply. We have to recognize that fresh water is the life blood of our economy.” Water shortages will take a huge chunk out of economies in the future as they simultaneously take a serious toll in terms of human life and population numbers. There is not enough water for the future of all the men, women and children on our planet.
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones writes, “The Sahel drought killed upwards of a million people, and since then the steady increase in drought conditions in sub-Saharan Africa has probably contributed to ongoing crises in Darfur, Chad, and elsewhere. Now imagine what the world will be like when droughts are twice as bad, last twice as long, and cover not just sub-Saharan Africa but upwards of half the landmass of the planet.”
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“Around the world, the welcome mat for outsiders is being rolled up on a scale rarely seen in history as economies continue to struggle and worries about cultural identities rise. In Europe, some countries have attempted to pay Africans and others to head back home, while Israelis are legislating against immigration in the name of demographic survival. Across continents, countries have closed doors on vulnerable refugees, and, in some places, nativism has reached such heights that urban residents even want their own rural migrants banished outside city limits,” reports The Christian Science Monitor. The world is changing rapidly and it’s a bad time to be in the wrong place, especially if it’s a place running out of water.
The farmlands spreading north and east of this Euphrates River town were once the breadbasket of the region, a vast expanse of golden wheat fields and bucolic sheep herds. Julien Goldstein for The New York Times wrote in October of 2010 that, “Refugees have left their farmlands and are living in tents in Al Raqqa, Syria because of a drought. Now, after four consecutive years of drought, this heartland of the Fertile Crescent – including much of neighboring Iraq – appears to be turning barren, climate scientists say. Ancient irrigation systems have collapsed, underground water sources have run dry, and hundreds of villages have been abandoned as farmlands turn to cracked desert and grazing animals die off. Sandstorms have become far more common, and vast tent cities of dispossessed farmers and their families have risen up around the larger towns and cities of Syria and Iraq. “I had 400 acres of wheat, and now it’s all desert,” said Ahmed Abdullah, 48, a farmer who is living in a ragged burlap and plastic tent here with his wife and 12 children alongside many other migrants. “We were forced to flee. Now we are at less than zero – no money, no job, no hope.”
The world faces “mass starvation” if the current patterns and trends continue. Scientists in England are warning that a “perfect storm” of food shortages and water scarcity now threatens to unleash public unrest and conflict, the government’s chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, has warned.  “People do not quite realize the scale of the issue,” said Professor Mike Bevan. “This is one of the most serious problems that science has ever faced.” In Britain the lives of hundreds of thousands of people will be threatened by food shortages.