Monday, July 28, 2014

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: I

"A shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future. Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon."
Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General

1.6 billion live in areas where there is water, but they can't afford to drink it.

International Water Management Institute

By 2025, two-thirds of the world will live under conditions of water scarcity.

International Water Management Institute

Global water demands will increase by 40% in the next ten years.

Pacific Institute

Two-thirds of the cities in China suffer from water shortages. Clean water is even more rare.

Asia Water Projects

India WILL run out of water in the near future.

Arlington Institute

Water is the very essence of life. Every life form on this earth draws sustenance from it. And yet, human beings have been so reckless in its abuse and misuse that we are now faced with an imminent crisis that we are unlikely to overcome, without creating many other tragedies.

In the face of this looming global water crisis, what is the level of Bhutan’s preparedness - not only to endure and overcome the crisis but also to capitalize on our geographical positioning at a location that accounts for one of the two largest sources of fresh water - the glaciers that feed the river systems of the world.

Unfortunately, as a result of global warming, our expansive glaciers that feed our river systems are fast receding. Our great mountains are balding as a result of insufficient snowfall. Around the world, rainfalls are becoming erratic and undependable, resulting in reduced fresh water supply for human use and consumption, while demand is increasing year after year.

In all likelihood, in twenty years time, the very nature and pattern of agriculture farming will change - because whatever water is available is not enough for drinking purposes. Closer to home, it is quite possible that India will see hugely reduced irrigated farming - because their water will no longer be fit for agriculture production. From being one of the world’s biggest exporters of grains, India is likely to soon become a net importer of food grains, thereby driving global grain prices through the roof.

India’s Green Revolution saw them attain food self-sufficiency but in the process they depleted their ground water reserve that they indiscriminately pumped up for irrigated farming purposes. Then came the Industrial Revolution. A hugely thriving economy meant that the industrial production went up. But this also meant that they produced massive amounts of industrial waste that finally ended up in their river systems and groundwater. As a result, today most of India’s rivers are not fit for agriculture production. Thus, currently, more than 80% of India’s irrigation water is drawn from the ground. Sadly though, it has now been observed that polluted rivers seep into the ground, thus contaminating the groundwater as well - rendering them increasingly unsafe for food production.

The water scarcity in India is so severe that Arlington Institute predicts that India WILL soon run out of fresh usable water. To add to their troubles, it is estimated that India’s population will overtake China’s by the year 2050. So, while the demand for water will increase as a result of population explosion, supply will shrink even further because of poor management of water resources and through uncontrolled pollution.

So, why am I talking of India in the context of water shortages? Simple: India is and will remain relevant in our context. I mean think - can you imagine what it will take to quench the thirst of a staggering 1.6 billion thirsty Indians? And, that too, in a situation where their own water supplies are running out? India is already operating some of South Asia’s largest desalination plants, to augment their drinking water supply. But the truth is that desalination will not solve their problems - it is just too expensive. On the other hand, decontaminating their river systems and underground water will take many, many decades without any guarantee that they will ever succeed.

All these point to one thing: India will soon need to look for alternatives.

............ to be continued.

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