Hope is Evaporating

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A discussion of issues with global access to fresh water.

Submitted: February 02, 2013

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Submitted: February 02, 2013




“Hope is Evaporating”

An ever increasing concern is surprisingly not sweeping across the world. The planet is running out of accessible fresh water. This problem has come about by human impact on the environment and has been exasperated by the Global North’s notion that freshwater should be considered a commodity. In this paper I will discuss the reasons for our decreasing water supply, both environmental and health problems associated with the abuse of our freshwater sources, how water has become a commodity, and the ensuing struggles that Third World countries are forced to endure so that they can have access to the worlds most vital resource.

There are actually many sources of fresh water across the planet. These range from rivers, to glacier melts, to lakes, and underground aquifers. However, each of these sources is under a constant attack, whether directly or indirectly, by humans’ unending need to extract every possible drop to quench the thirst of a rapidly growing population.

There are many peoples around the world, namely those at the foot of the Himalayans in Asia and throughout China, who rely on glacier melts as their steady source of freshwater. However, global warming has caused these glaciers to recede to the point where they simply do not produce enough water to sustain the population depending on them. They are predicted to reduce by fifty percent every decade.

Groundwater has increasingly become a temporary solution to our freshwater shortage. However, groundwater is a finite resource and it is exponentially extracted as more wells have to be drilled deeper as the water table drops lower. In fact, one third of the world’s population relies on the extraction of groundwater. The question must be asked, “Where will these people turn when their aquifers dry up?” The problem is made worse by the spread of urbanization and deforestation. Pavement and concrete do not allow the water to percolate through back into the ground which help replenish the ground waters. Instead, the water and the toxins it has picked up as runoff, along the streets, is channeled directly into a river on a non stop voyage to the sea. That is, however, if it is not met by a dam or get diverted to another region.

Dams are responsible for inundating over one percent of the world land surface, drastically and rapidly changing the ecosystem. Diversions, on the other hand, work in the opposite way. They redirect water to another region, causing a once life giving area to desiccate. Some of the world’s largest rivers no longer even make it to the coast; such as the Colorado, the Rio Grande, the Nile, the Yellow River, the Indus and the Jordan.

Other, less intuitive reasons for our decreasing water supply can be found in the virtual water trade. Virtual water is water that is in the form of some other commodity such as fruit, vegetables, or bio fuels. If a nation is having water shortage problems, it is possible that much of their water is being virtually sold as fruits without ever actually dealing directly with the water itself. Bio fuels have come under recent criticism for the same reason. Not only do they require vast expanses of land for agriculture, but a study out of Cornell College showed that it requires seventeen hundred liters of water to produce one liter of ethanol.

One solution that finds its way to the center of discussion is that we must search for other sources of fresh water due to the amount of pollution in the planet’s surface water. This suggests that decision makers would rather find other ways to get fresh water than fix the real problem; removing the pollution from the surface water. Much of the water in the world is unusable because it is filthy. However, in some Third World countries, dirty water is the only water that is available. Along with that water comes all of its contaminants.

But how harmful can water really be? Well, for starters, “In the last decade, the number of children killed by diarrhea exceeded the number of people killed in all armed conflicts since the Second World War. Every eight seconds, a child dies from drinking dirty water.” (p.3). Another threat of contaminated water are substances called endocrine disruptors. Endocrines are basically hormones. Endocrine glands are responsible for the secretion of testosterone and estrogen. Disrupting or affecting these glands can result in very feminine males, very masculine females, or even hermaphrodites. Although studies are not conclusive on humans, these effects have been readily seen in amphibians in contaminated habitats.

But how did water turn from the free “nectar of life” to a commodity on which billions of dollars a year can be made? It must be understood that, once much of the water became polluted, clean water became a scarce resource. Like any other natural resource that humans find use for, so comes the ensuing market on who does and who doesn’t get access to the resource; the most deciding factor being who can afford the product.

This made way for the privatization of water distribution. A competitive market, if you will. In this process, private businesses are hired by national governments, possibly Third World, to come in and establish sanitation factories or distribution facilities. The nation would take a loan out from the World Bank. However, the terms of these loans are usually outrageous and are rarely paid back. In order to pay back the loans, budget cuts must be made on the citizens. The nation’s citizens are never have no voice in these matters and are at the mercy of battling governments.

The United Nation sat down and decided that “water has an “economic value” in all its “competing uses” and should be recognized as an “economic good”. People were wasting water because they didn’t have to pay for it…” (p.44) And so, the use of water was attached to a fee. Of course, the United Nations failed to mention that the Global North was far more rampant in the waste of water than the Global South.

There are three giant think tanks in the planets water market: the World Water Council, Aquafed, and the Global Water Partnership. All of which are funded by the United Nations as well as the World Bank. This seemingly competitive market has turned into a Global North monopoly over the Global South. Even the World Water Forums were arranged by the North to make it look as if the world were going to sit down and discuss the growing crisis that the Earth faces. However, the meeting was simply a way for private investors to sneak in some advertising while the “water councils” preached why all people should invest into the cause themselves.

The problem here is that these water councils do not truly want to help those who actually need help with accessing freshwater. Their only goal is making more money. That is why they will not step in and help people unless they are given huge sums of money. They even reserve the right to pack up and leave, should the payments halt.

Another problem facing Third World countries is that the very reason they are classified as a Third World country is because they have a disproportionate amount of poor to rich ratio. Meaning, if ninety percent of the population is poor and ten percent is filthy rich, you can guarantee that, when these private corporations do come in, only the wealthy ten percent will reap any and all of the benefits. Within a nation in the Global South, the people are being separated into their own economic north and south boundaries.

The burdens are clearly disproportionate. The average human needs fifty liters of water a day for all drinking cooking and washing needs. The average North American, however, uses almost six hundred liters a day. Meanwhile, the average inhabitant of Africa uses only six liters per day. A Northern baby on average consumes forty to seventy times that of a Southern baby. There is even an area in Mumbai where a single toilette serves 5,440 people. This crisis is hardly covered in the media and when it is it is usually shown as a regional or local problem, rather than global. It should also be noted that, in today’s market, a liter of bottled water costs more than a liter of gasoline.

“Every day, the failure of our political leaders to address the global water crisis becomes more evident. Every day, the need for a comprehensive water crisis plan becomes more urgent. If ever there was a moment for all governments and international; institutions to come together to find a collective solution to this emergency, now is that moment” (p.32-33). “ It is like a comet poised to hit the Earth. If a comet really did threaten the entire world, it is likely that our politicians would suddenly find that religious and ethnic differences had lost much of their meaning” (p.29). 

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