#WaterCrisis: In water denial? Sorry to burst your bubble
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Throughout human history, those who gained control of the great rivers and other supplies of fresh water rose to prominence, prospered and declined. The list includes the rulers of Mesopotamia, Pharaohs of the Nile, Roman engineers, Chinese canal-building emperors, Muslim long-distance camel traders and European watermill and steam pioneers.
Water is the foundation of life and makes our existence on this planet possible. Water-haves tend take the precious liquid for granted, wasting it on water-guzzling crops, domestic swimming pools and lawns because it’s relatively cheap and always on tap.
However, there are more than a billion water-have-nots in the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa, poor people spend hours collecting and transporting water of dubious quality, which often undermines their health. Meanwhile, prolonged droughts lead to food insecurity and forced migration.
Although water covers 70% of the earth’s surface, only 3% is fresh and two-thirds of that is frozen or unavailable for human consumption. What remains would, if carefully managed, satisfy the needs of the burgeoning world population, but clean water is unevenly dispersed.
Australia receives 5% of the world run-off for use by 0.5% of the world’s people. Asia, on the other hand, receives about 30% of the run-off - mostly during seasonal monsoons - but its resources are stressed because it has to support 60% of the human race. South America has almost the same run-off for just 6% of the global population, but most of it flows into the sea.
South Africa's average annual rainfall of 450mm produces insufficient run-off to replenish all of our dams. Wetlands are disappearing and water sources are drying up or becoming too polluted to use.
WWF believes that water scarcity is a global challenge and that climate change will make the situation worse. It predicts that two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025, which is just around the corner.
Here in the Cape, water has become an expensive commodity and is no longer distributed cheaply on a seemingly limitless scale. Market pricing for private water is common in parts of India and will undoubtedly spread. Meanwhile, bottled water has become the world’s fastest-growing beverage.
Sadly, political in-fighting continues to obscure the practical dilemmas we face as a nation. Looming water shortages will, of necessity, retard social upliftment and exacerbate environmental degradation.
* Jackie Loos' "The Way We Were" column is published in the Cape Argus every week.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.