Water Woes


1. Nor any drop to drink

2. A global shortage

3. Bright signs

4. Supply and demand

5.Global warming




'water drop guy' points out: Sharing water supplies can force cooperation as well as competition.


This Indian poplar plantation thrives on raw sewage water piped directly from nearby homes. Partly treated wastewater is also used on farms and placed in wetlands; the water provides nutrients to the plants, which helps purify it.
Photo by I. de Borhegyi.
Courtesy FAO

    Not dry as dust
Despite the potential for fights over water, shortages can increase cooperation as well as friction. Jordan and Israel closely cooperate on the preservation of the Jordan River. Author de Villiers says water shortages, rather than exacerbating tensions in the Middle East, "have brought them together" -- although we wouldn't overstate the degree of cooperation.

A farmer holds the handles of a small irrigator used to lift water from a larger channel into the fields. The pump uses a series of small buckets to lift the water.Demand for water is escalating, contributing to intensified competition among users. In many areas, giving water to one user means denying it to another.
Photo by F. Botts. Courtesy FAO

Egypt stores a great amount of Nile water behind the Aswan High Dam, but the high rate of evaporation in the desert is an incentive to transfer the storage upstream, where, according to Postel, it would evaporate one-third as fast. Although that would leave more water to be shared, Egypt would never allow Ethiopia to build dams without assurances of a steady water supply in drought years.

Although there's no agreement yet, there's been some cooperation, Postel says. "Ethiopia and Egypt meet about water every year, trying to work toward a watersharing arrangement -- something they would not have considered 10 years ago."

Skinny poplars stand in rows, separated by wide canals of muddy brown water. No word on the odor...There are other reasons for optimism about the generally dismal water situation. For example, total U.S. usage has dropped 20 percent from a peak in 1980. de Villiers says some underdeveloped countries are likewise reducing consumption.

"Namibia is famously thrifty for its use of water [in dry years, up to 30 percent of the capital's drinking water is recycled wastewater]. Egypt recycles virtually everything they get."

And while rivers are heavily polluted in China and elsewhere, a few rivers are being restored. De Villiers says the Rhine, once called the sewer of Europe, has been cleaned up over the past decade or so. "I'd not want to drink it, but fish are reappearing in the river."

Can the profit motive help?




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