Posted by: Bruce Allen | July 29, 2008

The Economics of Water

No drinking water, prohibition sign D-P005 acc...Image via Wikipedia

I’m in the midst of reading the new book by Maude Barlow called Blue CovenantThe Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.  It is a shocking and deeply disturbing picture of the State of the Planet.  The premise is that water will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th.  And, the key point to remember is that water is the only life-sustaining substance on earth for which there is no substitute.  When it becomes expensive or, worse yet, unavailable, there are no alternatives.

While I’m warming to my subject, I want to give you a few excerpts from the first 50 pages of this book.

“More children are killed by dirty water than by war, malaria, HIV/AIDS and traffic accidents combined…Every eight seconds, a child dies from drinking dirty water.”

“Unless we change our ways, by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water scarcity.”

“California has a twenty-year supply of freshwater left.  New Mexico has only a ten-year supply.  Arizona is out; it now imports all of its drinking water. Lake Powell, the man-made backup for the western water supply, has lost 60 percent of its water.”

One toilet for 5400 people!

“One report cited a current example of an area in Mumbai, where one toilet serves 5,440 people.”

“In China, 80 percent of the major rivers are so degraded they no longer support aquatic life, and an astonishing 90 percent of all groundwater systems under the major cities are contaminated.”

“…2.1 million Indian children under the age of five die every year from dirty water.”

“In Canada, more than one trillion liters of untreated sewage is dumped into waterways each year, a volume that would cover the entire 7,800 kilometer length of the Trans-Canada Highway, six stories high…only about 2 percent of Latin America’s wastewater receives any treatment at all.”

“China has less water than Canada and forty times more people…The water table beneath Beijing has fallen nearly two hundred feet in the past twenty years, which has led some planners to warn that China may have to choose another city for its capital.”

“Up to 30,000 liters of water are used to produce one kilogram of cotton…it takes 1,700 liters of water to produce one liter of ethanol.”

“The World Wildlife Fund reports that only 21 of the world’s 177 longest rivers run unhindered to the sea.”

“Sixty years ago the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest lake;…it has lost more than 80 percent of its volume and what is left is salty brine…Lake Chad, once the sixth largest lake in the world…now all but gone.”

Aral Sea, March 2008

Aral Sea, March 2008

According to John Archer, “Desalination of the sea is not the answer to our water problems,  It is survival technology, a life support system, an admission of the extent of our failure.”

The global drinking water crisis has political, economic, moral and investment implications.  Look for more on this subject in the future.

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  1. Technically, the planet will be just fine. However, our ability to inhabit the planet is what’s in trouble.

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