Monday, April 18, 2005

Tiny Bubbles

"Nothing without water/Water has no enemy”
—"Water No Get Enemy" lyics by
Fela Kuti

Besides tea, my other beverage of choice these days is good old fashioned water—without the gas. Carbonated water tastes like aspirin to me so that would leave plain old tap as the source, but I live in San Francisco. No matter what they say about the Hetch Hetchy water system, filtered by Yosemite—I ain’t doin’ it straight from the tap. And forget about those Britta water pitchers. I don’t have all day to wait for them to drip drip fill. I’ll take my chances with the already bottled water, though there doesn’t appear to be a consensus on the risk of dixoin (and other carcinogen) contamination attributed to plastic containers.

While scholarly opinions vary, I’m pretty skeptical of the purity of most water, especially for urban dwellers. (I was surprised to see that Detroit’s water is better than San Francisco’s, which is a bit frightening). It’s even been suggested that prescription drugs, such as Prozac are making it into the water supply. Crimeny, we can't even agree on how much water to drink each day let alone what's in it. One thing's for sure, though: easy access to water will one day be the stuff of myth. Water gets more scarce day by day.

You can laugh and take it as a joke if you wanna
But it don't rain for four weeks some summers
And it's about to get real wild in the half
You be buying Evian just to take a fuckin bath...
Used to have minerals and zinc in it (New World Water)
Now they say it got lead and stink in it (New World Water)
Four carbons and monoxide
Push the water table lopside
Used to be free now it cost you a fee
…The rich and poor, black and white got need for it (That's right)
And everybody in the world can agree with this (Let em know)…
Go too long without it on this earth and you leavin it (Shout it out)
Americans wastin it on some leisure shit (Say word?)
And other nations be desperately seekin it (Let em know)
Bacteria washing up on they beaches (Say word?)
Don't drink the water, son they can't wash they feet with it (Let em know)…
Epidemics hopppin up off the petri dish (Let em know)
Control centers try to play it all secretive (Say word?)
To avoid public panic and freakiness (Let em know)
There are places where TB is common as TV
'Cause foreign-based companies go and get greedy
The type of cats who pollute the whole shore line
Have it purified, sell it for a dollar twenty-five
Now the world is drinkin it...
The cash registers is goin to chink for it
—"New World Water" lyrics by Mos Def

The professional prognosticators tell us that once we realize that it's more valuable than oil, water will be the next commodity we fight over. We’ve configured our world so that we can’t live in the way we’re accustomed without oil, but we literally cannot live without water. Global discussions of the issue revolve around degrees of water crisis:

"Water shortage" is used to describe an absolute shortage, where levels of available water do not meet certain defined minimum requirements. The actual quantity that determines a per capita minimum may differ from place to place.

"Water scarcity" is a more relative concept describing the relationship between demand for water and its availability. The demands may vary considerably between different countries and different regions within a given country depending on the sectoral usage of water. A country with a high industrial demand or which depends on large scale irrigation will therefore be more likely to experience times of scarcity than a country with similar climatic conditions without such demands. Countries such as Rwanda, for example, would be classified by most standards as suffering water shortage but, because of low industrial and irrigation utilisation, would not be classified as water scarce.

"Water stress" is the symptomatic consequence of scarcity which may manifest itself as increasing conflict over sectoral usage, a decline in service levels, crop failure, food insecurity, etc. This term is analogous to the common use of the term "drought."

"Water security" is a situation of reliable and secure access to water over time. It does not equate to constant quantity of supply as much as predictability, which enables measures to be taken in times of scarcity to avoid stress.
The end result of each of these is dire, and the potential for destruction is widespread. According to an article originally published in a 1991 issue of Foreign Policy water has been on the radar for nearly two decades:

As early as the mid-1980s, U.S. government intelligence services estimated that there were at least 10 places in the world where war could break out over dwindling shared water—the majority in the Middle East. Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, Malta, and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula are sliding into the perilous zone where all available fresh surface and groundwater supplies will be fully utilized.

Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia face similar prospects in 10 to 20 years. Morocco has made serious efforts in the water and sanitation sectors. Still, that country faces the prospect of a declining water supply beyond the year 2000, when its population is projected to grow to 31 million.

Algeria, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Tunisia, and Yemen are already facing a "water barrier" requiring accelerated efforts, investments, regulations, and controls just to keep apace of spiraling populations. Middle Eastern and North African countries combined will absorb 80 million people by the close of the 1990s, pitting the Davidian capacity of existing water and sanitation services against the Goliath of demand."
According to other data, one can expect to add Qatar, Libya, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Zimbabwe, Barbados, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Singapore, Peru, Bahrain, Comoros, Kuwait, South Africa, Cape Verde, Syria, Kenya, Iran, Burundi, Ethiopia, Haiti, Rwanda, Malawi, and Somalia to the list of countries that will likely experience deep difficulties by 2025, if not already. And of course the problem isn't just out there—it’s here at home as well. Anyone who lives in the southwestern United States, including Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, or some of the plains states can tell you that the price of gas will one day be the least of your problems. Tiny bubbles. Chin chin.


Anonymous Aaman said...

According to the WTO, and most other laws, water is a 'product' not a need - there's the irony.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous SFC SKI said...

Syria and Turkey have had some very heated disputes over water rights in the past few years, up to using troops, IIRC. Not quite a water war, but foreshadowing perhaps? IN the US it is going to become an issue sooner rahter than later, but we do have some really good programs in place to recycle water to a level of purity that allows it to be used as drinking water.
If I really wanted to get enviro ranting, I could point out things like Americans using lots lots water to make their lawns green in Phoenix and other places, but that is only one small piece of a much larger puzzle.

Some say that if people were actually charged water water was worth, conservation would be taken more seriously. I have had to haul the water I needed for daily use 10 gallons at a time, that is all the lesson I need.

8:56 AM  
Blogger mpho said...

Oh god, the WTO--don't get me started. Thanks for that tidbit Aaman; I didn't know that they had categorized or defined water in that way, but it doesn't surprise me. Arrrgh.

Foreshadowing? For sure, SFC SKI. I think some of us do have to learn the hard way though. It wasn't until about five years ago, when I visited a friend in Arizona, just outside of Flagstaff, that I really got a taste of what this is all about. As you say, a week of drawing water from the well and rationing for showers that I realized the gluttony most of us have for water. But it seems like it's a lesson we'll all learn sooner rather than later.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Aaman said...

"No water for oil" :)

9:13 PM  
Anonymous James said...

Water is one of the only resources that cannot be transported long distances economically. That makes most water problems very localized, and regionalized. For instance, if we have excess water in the US from conservation, we cannot transport that economically on a large scale to other regions (disaster relief is the exception, but it is at very high cost and is mostly bottled water).

Our conservation will help the health of our rivers, and probably benefit Mexico, which would be a good thing. But given the rate of growth, conservation will mostly go to more growth.

There is a very striking relationship between standard of living and water use. Countries with a higher standard of living use more water per person. That is not going to change anytime soon, if ever. It has been that way since the Romans at least. Having water on demand and a green lawn is what makes living in this country great.

What really makes sense is water reuse and recycling, which is going on in florida and other places to keep the landscape green without using "drinking quality water". Ultimately though, new sources of water are going to have to be found (desalination, once it gets cheap enough), or a redistribution of our farming, which uses the most water. However farmers are very politically connected, and guard their water rights very closely. It should be interesting to watch in the coming years.

8:58 AM  

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