Water, Water, Everywhere . . .

 “Many of the wars this century were about oil, but those of the next century will be over water.”

Ismail Serageldin
Chairman of the World Commission for Water in the 21st Century and senior World Bank official

While most of my writing thus far has been focused on sustainability and the economy, I recently read a great book by Steven Soloman called Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization that shows that the scarcity of clean, potable, freshwater is going to be one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century and promises to redefine international relations between the Haves and the Have-Nots.  Historically there has been a link between access to freshwater and population growth, but over the past hundred years the overuse and poor management of this vital resource has left many natural aquifers in very bad condition.  The heart of the water epidemic is the fact every person, animal, and plant requires water to live.  Up until now, there has been enough freshwater to meet the needs of the population.  However, new evidence shows that humans may now be using water faster than it can be replenished into the aquifers.  The alarming dark side of this humanitarian divide include over 1.1 billion people – almost one-fifth of all humanity – who lack access to at least a gallon per day of safe water to drink.  Some 2.6 billion – two out of every five people on Earth – are sanitary Have-Nots lacking the additional five gallons needed daily for rudimentary sanitation and hygiene.  Far few still achieve the minimum threshold of 13 gallons per day for basic domestic health and well-being, including water for bathing and cooking.[1]  There are also over 3.3 million deaths every year from water-related heath problems such as diarrhea, dysentery, malaria, dengue fever, schistosomiasis, and cholera.  Not surprisingly, lack of freshwater runs hand in hand with insufficient food production and malnutrition since agriculture is such a water intense industry.  Persistent water shortages threaten governments both on the domestic front from social unrest as well as internationally through territory disputes, military threats, and trade patterns. 

Oil can be replaced by a growing number of alternatives including renewable energy but there is no alternative to water.  In your quest for sustainable living, please remember that water is the foundation of life and for the first time in history, in danger of leaving some inhabited regions dry.  This is a problem on a massive scale, but it can also be navigated effectively by understanding the issue and the reasons for it.  Hopefully the existential threat of water scarcity is enough to force nations into dialogue over their resources as well as how populations can be more efficient. 


[1] Solomon, Steven.  Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.  New York: Harper Perennial, 2011.  Print. p. 370.

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One thought on “Water, Water, Everywhere . . .

  1. Pingback: Melting Ice Caps | Mr. Greenbacks

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