Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We're running out of water

From The San Francisco Chronicle
By Martin Lagod

When I took my oldest daughter to college for the first time, I was struck by the number of students I saw lugging bottled water into their dorm rooms, case after case. Wasn't tap water good enough for these kids, I wondered? Why pay $2 a bottle for something that I always thought of as free?

Of course, water has never been free, and we take it for granted at our peril. Envision a future when a $2 bottle of water will seem cheap, when water scarcity drives up its price, leading to mass suffering, riots and, quite possibly, water wars. In parts of the world, this is already reality. The fact is our planet is in danger of running out of potable water faster than we realize.

According to data collected from NASA and the World Health Organization, 4 billion people will face water shortages by 2050. Already in China, water levels in the Yellow River -- a source that supplies more than 150 million people -- are down 33 percent from the average. In China's cities, wastewater pollution and inadequate treatment facilities have contaminated the water consumed by more than half the population. Of its 669 major cities, 440 face moderate to severe water shortages. The Chinese government -- desperately seeking solutions -- calls the water shortage a social, environmental and economic crisis.

The crisis in China has global implications. Its agricultural industry has been nearly crippled by groundwater contamination, making the Chinese dependent on grain supplies from the West. If the Chinese population continues to grow, the demand for grain could cause global shortages and rising prices.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where the population grows by more than 2.6 percent each year and severe drought affects the supply, less than 70 percent of water needs are met. The same is true in India, where all 14 major rivers are polluted and drying up. The United Nations deems dirty water a leading cause of death for children under age 5, responsible for the deaths of more than 1.8 million children every year. More...