Lynn Schuette 'The Smokestorm' from the series: In a World Where Butchers Sing Like Angels, Acrylic on Canvas, 72” x 60”, 2004, San Diego Public Library Collection. Currently on view at the Otay Mesa-Nestor Branch Library.
In Our Hands
The State of Water on Our Planet
By Fe Bongolan

Now the trumpet summons us again–not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need–not as a call to battle, though embattled we are– but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"–a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.
-- President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 1961

It's hard for me to imagine a safer or more secure feeling than when I hear the sound of rain outside my window, especially after a long dry spell. Rain's gentle rhythm soothes, and there's something about that sound that triggers what I believe to be a primitive part of my brain. It reassures without words the certainty of life's continuance by our primary sustaining element: water.

Imagine what people feel would feel when they hear rainfall come in a region long-ravaged by drought, or what fears come hearing the sound of thunder for those who have been living through continual floods decimating their communities.

Unless you live in a region that has a problem accessing drinking water, you don't have to worry about dealing with a water crisis. However, there are over one billion people on the planet who do not have access to improved drinking water. Most do not have a reliable tap from which to draw water for their homes. According to the UN, 20 percent of the world's population throughout 30 countries face water shortages. This number is expected to rise to 30 percent of the world's population and spread through 50 countries by 2025.

The impoverished in the developing world pay on average 12 times more per liter of water than fellow citizens connected to municipal systems. Poor people use less water, much of which is dirty and contaminated. Diseases linked to low-quality drinking water kill around 3.1 million people a year, while 1.6 million could be saved if they had safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

Furthermore, water use has doubled over the rate of the planet's population growth. More water is needed for food production, which must grow by 55 percent to meet food needs by 2030. Some of the world's largest cities, including Beijing, Buenos Aires, Dhaka, Lima, and Mexico City, depend heavily on groundwater for their water supply. It is unlikely that dependence on aquifers, which take many years to recharge, will be sustainable.

A report by Britain's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, predicts that if carbon dioxide emissions continue at the current rate by industrialized nations -- exacerbating global warming, by the year 2100 over one-third of the planet will be reduced to desert conditions. Drought will spread to over half of the planet threatening the lives of millions. In short, a world water crisis.

But this is a crisis that has a solution. Industrialization in the 20th century adversely affected and depleted our planet's natural resources forcing us to realize that we needed to govern their use. In the recent past, we learned to curtail harmful industrial emissions and stopped the dumping of dangerous chemical toxins into our lands and waters. We learned to prohibit use of carcinogens in fertilizers and pesticides. Now, faced with the threat of an increasingly warming planet, we're on a new learning curve to find ways to better manage our water resources and improve the infrastructure to handle our planet's diminishing water supplies.

The Hadley Centre Report is both a crisis and an opportunity. Opening our eyes and applying the right measures of energy, resourcefulness, and political will, the people of this world can unite to prevent a global water catastrophe from happening. The tools and organizations are there. The work is cut out for us. More of us need to join in the fight.

We can yet change the future. That's if we raise our awareness, apply our knowledge, and heed the signs.

Global Warming

Earth's atmosphere is warming faster over the subtropics than anywhere else. The fast-heating belt surrounds the globe at 30 degrees north and south latitude. This means bigger deserts and more droughts from Africa to Australia to the Middle East. This warm belt crosses the southern United States, southern China and North Africa in the Northern Hemisphere, and southern Australia, South Africa and southern South America in the Southern Hemisphere.

Global temperatures are likely to rise by 5.4 degrees by the end of the century, sharply increasing drought and water shortages. The increase, more than five times the rise in global temperatures during the 20th century, will probably occur even if the world puts in place the most ambitious international limits on greenhouse gases currently under discussion. Sir David King, the government's top adviser on scientific issues, told BBC Radio that projected greenhouse gas proliferation is expected to bring increases in sea level and global temperatures "that would be extremely difficult for world populations to manage."

The effects are already apparent. Glaciers covering China's Qinghai-Tibet plateau are shrinking by 7 percent a year. Rising temperatures that have accelerated the melting of glaciers across the "roof of the world" will eventually turn tundra that spans Tibet and the surrounding high country into desert. Global warming is melting off the Ganges glacier resource, while increasing industrial pollution and over-population tax the available freshwater supply. Conversely, the Brahmaputra, the sacred Hindu river the Ganges, and around 50 other rivers that flow from India to Bangladesh are blamed for regular floods that kill or displace thousands of Bangladeshis.

The United States had one of the hottest summers since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, while drought from the Dakotas to Arizona through Alabama has sharpened the focus of farmers on their lifeline: water. Eighty percent of all fresh water consumed in the United States is used to produce food. But drought years, diversion of water to growing urban areas and, more lately, concerns about global warming are feeding worries. Unless addressed and managed quickly, using sustainable methods, farmers will not be able to produce enough food to feed the world because of a shortage of water.

A report by Christian Aid said 162 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of disease directly attributable to global warming by the end of the century. Yet, it is estimated that every household in Africa could change to clean, renewable energy sources that lessen carbon dioxide emissions for less money than it would take to pay the region's oil bill for the next decade.

Lynn Schuette 'The Bridge' from the series: The Color of This Life is Water, Panel #5 of 8 Acrylic on Canvas 110 x 107 2003. City of San Diego Public Art Collection Currently on view at the San Diego Convention Center.
Is Water the New Oil?

As much as has been reported over the years about wars over oil in the Middle East, wars over water have been ongoing for decades. Warfare in the Middle East began with fierce competition between Israel and Palestine for water resources from the Jordan River which is fed by three rivers on the Syria-Lebanon border. Competition for water has been a basis of tensions since 1967.

The Nile, the world's longest river, is the main source of water for nine countries in the Nile basin: Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo. Population stress has amplified the current intense competition for resources, with fierce competition between these neighboring countries for irrigation water and water to generate power. This competition has evolved into violent conflict. By tradition, water is transported by women from small villages carrying it from sources that have become increasingly distant from their homes. Now there are threats to women's safety by armed militia. Water scarcity has forced women and girls to travel further distances, risking their lives in the process.

Turkey's dam projects along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has increased political tensions with Syria and Iraq. All three countries have dams on the rivers and dispute each others' water use. In Darfur, a critical component for a lasting settlement between the rebels and the Sudanese government is to deal directly with the country's dire water shortage. In Sri Lanka, battles were waged against the Tamils to regain control of the rebel-held water source for about 50,000 people.

Overpopulation, Agriculture

The Yellow River today is diminished by massive extraction of water for agriculture and industry as well as declining levels of rainfall. According to the government, this summer, droughts in areas across China left 18 million people short of drinking water. Rapid development and a population explosion significantly increased the burden on China's water resources for agriculture and industry. Industrialization is moving so quickly that a massive effort is needed to address the country's uneven water distribution.

In the central United States, agricultural overuse has depleted the Ogallala Aquifer, an 800-mile-long underground pool stretching from Texas to South Dakota. This is the largest national aquifer in the US, feeding one-fifth of all the country's irrigated land. Agriculture is pumping out more water than is replenished. As American food producers attempt to feed a hungry nation and world, they threaten the future of its industry and that of the nation by depleting a primary source of drinking water.

Over a 30-year period, Kazakhstan saw a rapid decrease of its water supply, mostly from diversion to other parts of the former Soviet Union to support agriculture in other areas. Supply mismanagement and industrial pollution have further exacerbated the surrounding countries' problems.

Water Management

Damming has been the traditional means to concentrate and manage large sources of water for agriculture, industry and power generation for metropolitan areas. Applying this method to newly industrialized parts of the world with burgeoning populations and their inevitable, increasing water demands spells disaster to surrounding rural areas. Rural populations are traditionally dependent on local freshwater resources such as rivers, feeder streams and lakes. Decentralized methods to manage water needs to be further developed for these regions, updating and wisely applying the latest in technology to address the needs of these smaller rural communities with little or no access to fresh water.

Aging infrastructure, such as old worn pipes, adversely affects water delivery in major cities around the world. This increases the likelihood of water waste and contamination. Water subsidies for power generation and agriculture have contributed to water table depletion in the industrialized world. Freshwater to run manufacturing and power plants and to raise crops is dirt cheap. Economic pressure needs to be brought to bear on industries overusing water resources.

New methods to produce cheap, sustainable energy for electricity and water-efficient irrigation systems for agriculture must be applied to lessen the demand on freshwater supplies. This would decrease the likelihood of having to make the choice of sustaining industrialization or having enough drinking water to live. Successful models for drip irrigation exist in desert climates, such as Israel's, which farmers in the US Southwest are also starting to use.

The Struggle Against Common Enemies

In the United States, we have been seized by a group of citizens who deny the long-term consequences for their actions, affecting the way they manage our natural resources in manufacturing our food as well as other goods. These individuals and companies reap monetary rewards for taking and using the natural resources of other nations. Some have seats at the tables of the highest halls of power in the land.

Yet there are those of us who are fighting back. We embrace the reality of the long-term consequences from short-sighted management and exploitation of our world's resources. And we are beginning to be heard in the courts and in corporate boardrooms across the country. Global warming is not to be denied. Each day of a years long drought, each warm winter with no snow, killer heat waves, or freakish hurricane seasons causes at least one person a day in every town and city to utter the phrase: "…must be global warming." As former Vice President Al Gore said, "Hurricane Katrina proved to us that there are consequences."

At the end of An Inconvenient Truth the credits roll with a list of simple suggestions on to how we can work to mitigate global warming, ranging from replacing a regular incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb (cfl) to buying locally grown foods, to getting your car tuned up.

There are new solutions now found in the management of water that spells hope for the drought ravaged and flood damaged communities of the world. There are groups and organizations working to mitigate the depletion of water resources across the planet. OXFAM's work to fight global poverty includes improving water supplies for the planet's most vulnerable regions and populations. Their work on this issue, and ways to donate time, energy and money, can be found here.

In the U.S., the Natural Resources Defense Council's website, contains helpful information on what you can do to become a more active participant and advocate for clean water locally. It published this list of simple, achievable steps anyone can do, starting now:
Reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn.

Keep your driveway clean by sweeping rather than hosing it down.

Direct storm water from your roof leaders onto vegetation which can filtr its and let it seep into the soil.

Fix oil leaks in your car and dispose of used motor oil properly. (Never use storm sewers!)

If you use toxic cleansers, use them up, don't pour the remainder down the drain.

Put your trash in proper receptacles, at the beach and in your hometown.

Clean up after your pets.

Maintain your septic system.

Dispose of boat sewage in onshore sanitary facilities, not by dumping in the water.

Buy organic food.
We can also use our pocketbooks to support that change by refusing to buy from corporations that continue ecologically unsound manufacturing practices. Scorecard, the Pollution Information Site, provides annually a ranked listing of manufacturers that release toxic chemicals into US waters.

Lynn Schuette 'The Nike' from the series: The Color of This Life is Water, Panel #4 of 8 Acrylic on Canvas 110 x 107 2003 City of San Diego Public Art Collection Currently on view at the San Diego
The struggle to balance shrinking supplies of available drinking water for our ever-increasing human population must become a global effort. That effort begins locally. The threats to the world's water supply are not just climactic, but political and economic. So much depends on our willingness to see the other nation's problems caused by drought, famine and bad quality water-related disease as something in which we do have a stake. Even though the water crises of other nations is not next door, what we do locally does have a profound effect on other's lives. With regards to drought in other nations caused by global warming, their water crisis is also ours.

We can all live more sustainably within our shrinking world. So much depends on us taking that first step to examine our individual behavior. Population stress, how much food, land, oil, and power we consume is becoming a planetary burden. We can allay this by changing now. At this moment in time, the future fate of this planet for our children and the children in generations to come, both before and beyond 2100, rests completely in our hands.

We have a chance.

 

Websites/Resources:

The World Water Crisis Headlines 2006 - Water Partners International

American Water Works Association

Grist - Environmental News and Commentary

 
Articles:

 "Getting Fresh" - A Chat with Freshwater Experts Peter Glieck and William K. Reilly

June 30, 2006, David Robert, Grist - Environmental News and Commentary

From Environmental News Network:
"U.N. Reports a Fifth of World Lacks Clean Drinking Water Despite Abundant Supplies"
March 10, 2006, Anthony Mitchell, Associated Press

"In Northwestern Kenya, Drought Has Tribes Fighting for Water"
March 16, 2006, Chris Tomlinson, Associated Press

"China Grapples with Growing Water Shortages"
April 04, 2006, Ben Blanchard, Reuters

"Britain's Chief Scientist Says Temperatures Likely to Rise 3°C by End of Century"
April 17, 2006, Associated Press

"China's 'Roof of the World' Glaciers Melting Fast"
May 03, 2006, Reuters

"Climate Change Threatens Development of Billions of World's Poorest People, Charity Says"
May 15, 2006, Associated Press

"Subtropic Warming Could Mean Bigger Deserts, Study Shows"
May 26, 2006, Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters

"Darfur Peace Must Address Water Crisis, Economist Says"
July 18, 2006, Megan Rowling, Reuters

"Where Are the World's Looming Water Conflicts?"
August 02, 2006, Reuters

"Drought, Water Worries Cloud Skies for U.S. Farmers"
August 23, 2006, Christine Stebbins, Reuters

"Australia's Drought Could Be Worst in One Thousand Years" November 07, 2006, James Grubel, Reuters



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