Thursday, September 18, 2008


While the reality of hunger has captured attention of the world because of its potential for chaos and anarchy if not tackled globally through cooperation amongst rich and poor nations, the dramatic shrinking of available fresh water for human survival is hardly noticed except in water starved countries like Israel and others in arid region. According to reliable estimates more than 1 billion people suffer from inadequate access to safe water and by 2050, 50% of the global population will face water scarcity. Quantity-wise water is available in plenty in this planet but not in a condition to be used for safe living. Faulty waste disposal practices, release of industrial pollutants into the land and water bodies, fertilizer run off, coastal influx of salt water with aquifers and faster depletion of ground water due to over exploitation are continuously reducing water availability for consumption and use for daily chores.

Average annual per capita need of water is estimated to be 1000 meter cube with affluent countries guzzling more than the average figure while most in developing countries do not even get a fraction of this. Total world requirement of water was 3350 kilometer cube in 1998 which will rise to 4900 km cube by 2050 but will dramatically go up to 9250 km cube if the income levels in middle income countries rises as per the present trend. Global warming due to indiscriminate and uncontrolled emission of green house gases and endless deforrestation activities, is presumed to be responsible for 35% reduction in rains which provide most of the fresh water for all the living creatures on this earth. Is this planet ready to face these critical realities and avoid a situation that will spawn new wars amongst the communities, provinces, countries, regions and continents over water?

Better irrigation system, more intensive use of recycling technology, rationalization of cropping policies, virtual water concept of exporting food from water rich to water starved countries, setting aside the Utopian dream of self reliance by every country and massive desalination of sea water all can alleviate the water crisis waiting to happen in the near future. A shift from water 'guzzling' crops to water 'sipping' ones is inevitable to reduce avoidable waste of this precious life sustainer. Modified water delivery system by direct dropping of water to the roots and use of mesh nets to stop evaporation especially in dry areas as being practiced in Israel deserve adoption in many parts of the world. Water reclamation from sea and brackish water bodies using highly efficient membranes and with low energy consumption requires enormous investments in future as quantum wise this is an inexhaustible source of water. The waste water coming from billions of house holds across the world cannot be wasted and better technology can achieve purification and recycling, much beyond any body's imagination.

It is a good sign that global cooperative programs are emerging especially amongst countries most affected by water crisis. Saudi Arabia is reported to be shopping around for farmland in more fertile countries like Sudan and Pakistan and with no resource constraint the model of cooperation is certain to succeed as there is political as well as religious alignment amongst these countries. Similarly the reported foray by India into Central Asia, Africa and South America for commercial cultivation of oil seeds has also a fair chance of success for economic reasons. Such examples are worth replication across the globe in the coming years pushing individual agenda of countries involved, to the background for the sake of future generation.

World needs to be seen as a global village with no one immune to suffering from water shortage if collectively this problem is not tackled. R & D efforts must be multiplied manifold on all aspects of water conservation, extraction and optimized use. Investment on water related programs as a percentage of GDP of each country must have relationship to its agricultural GDP and such a policy decision cannot be postponed further. Even a conservative estimate indicates that on an average $ 1 trillion investment per year through 2030 is called for. This is hardly $ 120 annual per capita expenditure which is reasonable. While poor countries may not be able to mobilize vast funds, others with higher affordability must pitch in, to make up for the shortfall. International organizations like FAO, WHO, UNICEF, WORLD BANK, IMF and other bodies must wake up to this reality and take up the leadership to evolve a new world order where each global citizen is assured of the minimum water required to live a decent life with dignity.


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