Monthly Archives: February 2015

Water Problems and the world

I just finished reading several articles dealing with water crises and problems all over the world.  It seems like we’re headed for a megadrought here in the United States, the worst in a thousand years.  According to the scientists making this claim, if carbon emissions are not curtailed by 2050, we’re going to have more extreme weather like the megadroughts, and it will be compounded by extremes in climate being the new norm.  Extreme heat, extreme dryness, and freak storms, all mixed together.

Its not just the United States that will have these disasters, other nations are already facing water problems.  Pakistan and Brazil are also in the news over water issues, and China and India will be facing water issues on a scale unimaginable in the United States based on demand.

So from the articles, here are the problems with water that Pakistan will face or is currently facing.

-Water storage, they have inadequate facilities to store water, at 9% being stored in reservoirs while India has about 1/3 of water stored in reservoirs.  This makes the task of storing water more difficult since rainfall is erratic, a few monsoon storms but those few monsoon storms bring massive amounts of rain that end up being destructive and wasteful.  Think of it as having a flash flood in the desert, a lot of water, but little ability to harness it and store it, assuming it doesn’t wipe out your settlement.

-Mismanagement of water, the country suffers chronic problems of infrastructure.  In addition to the problem with reservoirs, the country also suffers inefficient grids and power production, which hampers the north of the country where hydroelectric power is part of the power production system.  This mismanagement also harms the agricultural needs of the country, which means a potential food crisis is looming should the problems with water continue.

-Political problems abound.  The government is more content to pick fights internally and rumble over power than to unite and focus on issues like the energy and water crises.  This political infighting is not unique, and while the government fights amongst itself, religious conservatives and Islamists have blamed India for “water terrorism”, or intentionally limiting the access to water to Pakistan.  The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 I think bans this behavior and according to the article, the minister of water and energy, Mr. Khawaja Muhammad Asif, denies the claims.

Now for Brazil, one of the BRICS nations, this one is about the largest city in the country Sao Paulo.  The city of Sao Paulo is the largest in Brazil, the metropolitan area alone has over 20 million people.  The city is reliant on two main reservoirs- the Cantareira and Alto Tiete, and both are near dry.  The estimates are that the city will run out of water in the next six months.

The causes of this shortage are:

-Climate change, the weather patterns are changing and droughts, lower rainfall, and higher temperatures all hamper water collection and storage.

-Political will, or there lack of such will, is one cited problem as politicians knew this was going to happen as far back as 1980s, and despite efforts by the government to clean up the rivers that feed into the Tiete river, they are still faced with a crisis.

-Neglect of water resources and polluting local water resources, a cultural practice it seems in the article.

-Unregulated use of water by the impoverished population.  The poorer population use the water in ways the authorities can’t monitor, but I suspect this is also due to a vicious cycle between government neglect of water resources and the poor being forced into relying on unmonitored water sources due to higher costs of water under monitored or even privatized systems.

So common themes here are that water management is vital, political will and unity are important for implementing changes, and climate changes are happening that harm the future of these countries as part of larger environmental problems.  In the case of Pakistan, the problems with energy, politics, and infrastructure are connected to water- they either are caused by water problems or they hamper solutions to the problems the country faces with water resources.

Brazil faces problems with water that stem from what appears to be a general neglect of water resources possibly created by the assumption that water was an infinite resource.

In the United States, it’s the lack of political will to embrace climate change as real and adopting new technologies to deal with it combined with changing climate and rain fall.

Now here are some of my suggestions:

Cultural- in all three cases, water seems to be treated as an infinite resource even if its recognized as scarce or precious.  If you have the tap on daily and like having a green lawn in the deserts out in Arizona or Texas (I’ve seen a few), you’re wasting water as if you lived in a water rich area.  There is also the assumption that rain forests are supposed to have lots of water, but this ignores the problem of clean water versus water not fit for consumption.  While Pakistan has deserts, the country also has forests and the Indus River.  Traditional views of water need to be shed, with an emphasis on clean drinking water being the goal and not just having water in general.

Economic- there is an argument to be made about the importance of economic development, both in clean energy and in the market.  The poor anywhere may lack education about water conservation, but they try to conserve water to the best of their technological and economic abilities.  Water filtration systems, wells, and access to clean water are vital and without economic improvements and wealth being more evenly distributed, the poor will have no choice but to continue using methods that pollute and waste water.  An improved economy also allows countries to afford better infrastructure and technology that can halt pollution of water resources and the environment.

Technological- there are new technologies being developed that could cut down on waste water dramatically, such as solar purification and better water retention infrastructure.  These new tools are limited to the more wealthy or those businesses and aid organizations that invest in developing countries.  Expanding technological innovation to other parts of the world will help all countries by attacking the water problem in countries as well as globally.

Political- all of this is impossible without the unity and political will of a government.  The people can demand better from their governments and companies, but without the political will to act, these calls by civil society fall on a brick wall.  Here in the United States the debate about climate change being real or not and being natural or anthrogenic misses the point.  Climate change is real and the problems it poses to each country and to the world are real.  In other countries they are working to address this eventuality with mixed success.

The articles I read are here,
United States of America and the Megadrought

Pakistan getting braced for water crisis

Sao Paulo to run out of water soon

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