Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What happens if the taps run dry?

I live on the driest continent in the world – Australia – and right now we are experiencing a significant drought with no relief in sight. This drought is driving a major rethink about water by providers and users. Somehow the dryness stirs the survival instinct and creates a very scary sense of personal unease. As part of preparing to facilitate a forum of decision makers and experts on the subject of water, I reviewed what I thought I knew about water. Surprise, surprise, I was shocked by what I read – somehow as the world has focused on climate change – my view is that the issues of water have taken a back seat. When was the last time you heard a celebrity talk about water?

Here are a few things that challenged my thinking:
Unless we take more care of water than we do now two thirds of the worlds population [that’s around 5 billion +] will face water scarcity by 2025.
Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh water and most of that is locked up in ways that mean we can’t use it [eg: snow, ice].
Of what little we do have, 70% is used in growing food – but not all foods are equal. One kg [2.2lbs] of wheat uses 1-2,000 litres of water but the same weight in grain fed beef uses 13-15,000 litres of water. It makes me think quite differently about the steak I had last night!
Most of the water in the world’s major aquifers is significantly degraded, the River Jordan looks more like a drain, the Dead Sea is not only dead, it is almost dry, and in some cities the quality is so poor that even bathing in it has health risks.
The message I think is clear. Water and better water utilization, needs to be at the forefront of the consciousness of governments, organizations and individuals in the same way we think about climate. We don’t need piecemeal measures, but bold and radical rethinking. As those living with scarcity start to fight for control of water, even those who live with short term sufficiency will be affected. It will change where and how we grow stuff, [should we start thinking about water miles?] and in the long term where we live. If we fail to understand that water really matters we humans who are really 98% water beings will have seriously compromised our long term future.