Water Wisdom – Our Lifeline

A lonely old fish while swimming in a small pond of water saw a group of young fishes playing with each other. The lonely old fish swam up to them – smiled and politely asked, ‘How is the water’?

The young fishes being too busy in their game ignored the elderly fish and ran away to another corner of the pond and continued playing. When their game was over one of the fishes asked the others – that old fish was asking about something called water. What is water?

A dozen young fishes kept pondering while swimming in water but could not figure out what the so called thing Water was!

The old fish had seen many of its friends & loved ones perish due to the lack of water when most part of this pond had dried during the drought. The old fish had experienced the tough times when it had struggled to survive in a small puddle of water which remained in one corner of the pond. The old fish knew the importance of water and how their survival depended on water. The old fish had wisdom from experience.

The younger lot were born in water and had seen abundant water all around them all the time so they found the presence of water to be so naturally normal that they did not even recognize its presence – let alone value it.

The moral of this story is that we must treasure and make use of the experience of people, beware of their concerns and seek their wisdom in solving problems.

Those who anticipate a problem and work towards a solution before it occurs are the ones for whom the problem becomes a no problem.

We at SILVERON have been explaining the reasons behind the build up of our water woes and how we should prepare to address them so that we have availability of water for our future generations.

In our previous blog post, we explained that once water is removed from a region at a rate faster than it can be replenished by natural processes, that water may be lost forever.

We should recognize that the water being exported from a surplus region into a deficient region in any form has no impact on the ground water situation of the receiving region. Meanwhile, the water-surplus regions become dry once their resources have been looted triggering a gradual desertification in due course of time.

Alongside the examples of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, Lake Naivasha in Kenya, we had called out the Bisalpur Dam in Rajasthan, India from where huge quantities of water is being pumped on daily basis to supply drinking water to far off urban centers in this desert state.

When water is taken out from its natural water basin – by pumping through pipelines or as bottled water directly or indirectly hidden in farm produce like almonds, pistachios etc., the ground water aquifers get dried and this leads to damage of the natural habitat and biodiversity and finally the entire ecosystem of the area is disrupted.

The cardinal lesson that water is an important asset of the local area and should remain within that area because it is the central factor around which the entire ecology of that area revolves.

Unfortunately, the news report on Bisalpur Dam published on the first page of the state & national newspaper of the 16th March 2019 endorses our anticipated fears as the water levels in the Bisalpur Dam drop below levels where it cannot sustain supply to urban areas.

The following recent news stories on the Bisalpur Dam report on this crisis:

The current position of Bisalpur dam is 308.16 meter which is enough till August, 2019 but if rainfall remains scarce this year as well, the state will face a drought-like situation

Times of India Report, 19 March 2019

The headline translates as WATER CRISIS KNOCKS: Water exhausting at Bisalpur, islands become visible.

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Water Crisis – Mankind Paving Its Way Towards Doom

(Click here for Part 1 of this series)

As many urban areas face a water crisis due to shortage of this resource there are rural areas that have a surplus supply of water. The demand and supply constraint between these regions creates a contest between the haves and have-nots.

Most governments look at this contest from the perspective of vote banks of its constituents and facilitates the transportation of water from one place to the other. Many corporations see this contest as an opportunity to make profit and eventually we notice pipelines being laid for transportation of water and the transformation of an agricultural setup to an industrial landscape with water intensive industries such as bottling plants being set up around areas with surplus availability of water.

We must realize that once a water is removed from a region at a rate faster than it can be replenished by natural processes, that water maybe lost forever. If a company bottles water at one location and transports it to far-off destinations or pumps water from lakes for supplying to other locations, the natural rate of replenishment may never be able to match the rate of industrial consumption at such a large scale, especially when driven by the demands of a much larger market.

We should also recognize that the water being exported from a surplus region into a deficient regions in any form has no impact on the ground water situation of the receiving region. The incoming water is usually consumed by the population and ends up mixed with sewage or industrial effluents without making any improvements to the availability of ground water in the deficient area. Meanwhile, the water-surplus regions become dry once their resources have been looted triggering gradual desertification in due course of time.

We have seen examples of such ecological degradation. The Aral Sea – at one time the 4th largest lake in the world – was a great lake so large in area that it was termed a ‘sea’. The former Soviet Union and the countries around it started growing cotton in the desert by siphoning out huge quantity of water from this lake and now the water is more or less completely gone.

AralSea1989_2014
Aral Sea 1989-2014

A similar tale repeats itself in the doomed fate of Lake Naivasha in Kenya which is extensively being exploited to support floriculture in the region. Note, that growing a dozen Rose flowers needs around 120 liters of water and to come out of its debt Kenya grows and supplies most of the Roses sold in Europe and in the process has nearly exhausted the water in this major lake.

Even in developed countries such as the US, in states like California water from northern water-rich regions is being transported by pipelines to the populous southern parts of the state and being used to grow water-intensive crops like alfa-alfa, pistachios etc. for export.

Another example in the making is the Bisalpur Dam in Rajasthan, India from where huge quantities of water is being pumped on daily basis to supply drinking water to far off urban centers in this desert state.

When water is taken out from its natural water basin – by pumping through pipelines or as bottled water directly or indirectly hidden in farm produce like almonds, pistachios etc., the ground water aquifers get dried and this leads to damage to the natural habitat and biodiversity and finally the entire ecosystem of the area is disrupted.

The cardinal lesson to learn is that water is an important asset of the local area and should remain within that area because it is the central factor around which the entire ecology of that area revolves.

The agriculture, industry, culture and lifestyle of any region are directly influenced by the availability of water, suitability of soil and climatic conditions of that region. We all have to adapt to live within the limits of our water sheds… something that modern industrial societies are fast forgetting.

To give an idea – here’s the water required for cultivation of a few commodities:

  • 100 liters of water is required to grow 1 Apple
  • 13 liters of water is required to grow 1 Tomato
  • 4 liters of water is required to grow 1 Almond
  • 3 liters of water is required to grow 1 Pishtachio
  • 1,500 liters of water is required to grow 1 kilogram of Wheat
  • 10,000 liters of water is required to grow 1 kilogram of Cotton
  • 70,000 liters of water is required to grow one bale of Alfalfa.

Since the beginning of civilization, we have found water in abundance in rivers and lakes and seen the regular rains so our minds are conditioned not to value water and we often overlook its availability when calculating the costs of inputs to any agricultural or industrial activity.

We must take action and adapt to a more sustainable and local strategy for water use. Now is the right time for this action or else we risk causing irreversible damage to our societies.

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Water Crisis – Mankind Paving Its Way Towards Doom

Enough is Enough

(Click here for Part 1 of this series)

We know for a fact that only about 3 % of the water available on earth is suitable for human consumption. Over the years, the quantum of fresh water available on earth has remained the same more or less but what was once an adequate supply has now become inadequate because of the increase in demand

Each year more and more regions of the world automatically slip into what are categorized as ‘water stressed regions’, because of over use. The main reason for increased water shortage and water stress is the rising population of the world, projected to reach 8.5 billion by the year 2030 . With this dramatic rise in population, the demand for food is also increasing along with the requirements of housing & infrastructure to accommodate the growing population.

The per capita water usage has also been increasing drastically due to rising prosperity and changing lifestyles of people. This is also contributing to the increase in the demand for water. In the last century the population has tripled but the demand for water has increased by 6 times.

Going by the fundamental economic principle of demand and supply, it is apparent that the demand for water is increasing and its availability is decreasing and hence its value is bound to climb.

As early as 2008, investment banking leader Goldman Sachs recognized the financial potential in water as a commodity and classified water as the petroleum of the next century. As water was anticipated to become the hottest new resource to profit from around 100 top corporations started to treat water as a new commodity for sale. Companies such as the Veolia based in Switzerland, Suez and Vivendi with their headquarters in Paris, France, Thames Water with its base in Berkshire, UK, became some of the major players.

In their nascent days, water companies usually controlled and operated within their own countries but with the arrival of Margaret Thatcher’s privatization revolution in the late 80s, the 10 state owned regional water authorities that supplied water to over three-quarters of England and Wales were privatized in December 1989 after the introduction of a new regulatory framework. This was the trigger which motivated the water companies to seek global control. Water rose to become a commodity in the stock market.

This small sample showcases the scale of these companies control:

  • Buenos Aires, Argentina – Buyer Suez
  • Puerto Rico, US – Buyer – Veolia
  • Jakarta, Indonesia – Buyer – Thames Water
  • Santiago, Chile – Buyer – Veolia
  • New York City, New York, US – Buyer – Suez
  • Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, US – Buyer – Thames Water
  • Las Vegas, Nevada, US – Buyer – Suez
  • Chicago, Illinois, US – Buyer – Veolia
  • New Orleans, Louisiana, US – Buyer – Veolia
bluefield-research
World’s 50 Largest Private Water Utilities: Served more than 280 million people in 24 countries & with more than $53 billion in annual revenue in 2014

According to the Private Water Utilities: Global Rankings & Company Strategies report, the world’s 50 largest private water utilities served more than 280 million people in 24 countries and generated more than $53 billion in annual revenue on a net equity basis in 2014. France, the U.K., the U.S. and Brazil host the largest private water utilities, but an increasing number of new players also appear in Bluefield’s rankings of population served and water produced from regions where private participation in the water sector is on the rise including Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Private participants are placing an increased emphasis on a diverse set of countries, with the U.S., Brazil, Chile, Italy and Spain topping Bluefield’s 2015 market attractiveness ranking for private participation.

These private water companies have the power to manipulate the World Bank to ask developing countries to privatize water for debt relief. These Water cartels are becoming more powerful than most Governments.

Lot of games have been played around to profit from Water – enough is enough.

It is time to take a firm stand on what position we give to water in our life. Is it a regional luxury, a global asset, a money spinning commodity for corporations, a life saving resource or a political tool in the hands of the government.

We have to change our entire outlook towards water. We have to value every drop of this life saving resource and we have to re-look at the ways we manage or transport or use water for farming or infrastructure development.

All these years water was used to douse fires but unfortunately such disrespect has been shown to water that it is on the verge of becoming the reason for fire and conflicts between societies and nations.

The hard reality is that fresh water on earth is limited and sooner or later the global population will reach a number which will make the fresh water resources fall short – what then?

…To be continued

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Water Crisis – Mankind Paving Its Way Towards Doom

We can all see the water crisis that is facing us but we stand no chance of saving ourselves from it unless we do not understand the causes behind it.

Imagine the globe without humans and without any human creation.

Earth The Blue Marble
The Blue Marble

Now imagine we unfold this globe on a flat surface

This is the BLUE planet – this is our earth – this is the way it was made to be and the way it would have been thousands of years ago.

What comes before you are the oceans, lakes, snow clad mountains from where the rivers are flowing downstream turning twisting with their branching tributaries distributing water on the earth like blood vessels in the body.

Imagine seeing the thick vast forests full of life with birds and animals busy from dawn to dusk. Feel the breath of fresh cool air on your face, smell the divine fragrance of flowers and fruits. Hear the singing chirping birds and bubbling brooks, buzzing insects, croaking frogs, falling rain drops amidst other sounds of nature.

Just the imagination of this earth has a wholesome effect on our emotional state and helps us relax.

Now contrast this imagination with the reality of our existence on this planet. Since the dawn of mankind, man has been a tyrant on this earth – snatching more of everything he needs. For space he starts cutting trees and reduces the forest cover many times more than required by him.

The destruction of forest means destruction of homes and reduced food availability for birds and animals forcing many species to the brink of extinction. The destruction of forest means reducing the natural air purifiers that clean the air of harmful chemicals. Reducing tree cover also reduces the leaves that allow for the settlement of suspended air pollutants and adversely affects the physical purification of the air.

As people luxuriate their lives with modern inventions like automobiles, air conditioners, planes etc. the planet bears increased pollution in its environment. As societies, we remain unconcerned about the daily problems of burning eyes, heavy fog, poor visibility, breathing difficulties, asthma which our inventions are creating apart from the challenges of global warming & climate change which will finally lead to the widespread disruption of our planet’s ecology.

With urbanization, there is a continued demand for housing to accommodate the growing population. In any growing city, single-family homes are gradually being replaced with high rise buildings with multiple apartments. Such ‘Cluster Housing’ units seem to suit all agencies– from electric supply to postal department because they can reach more people with less effort & cost.

Nobody ever considers the outcomes that a concentration of a large population in small pocket of land has on the demand for water that burdens the local watersheds. This is the reason why, be it pre-monsoon or post-monsoon, the ground water table continues to fall every minute.

Interestingly, we never hear from the big companies which build these large scale housing complexes about addressing this issue of fulfillment of water demand in the future as they are only focused on short-term profits. Agencies and companies conveniently skirt around this subject as they would otherwise have to restrict the number of such units being built.

As societies, we are all collectively culpable of swindling our most precious life saving commodity – water. We are steering clouds, manipulating the rivers by controlling the flow and quantum of water in them, polluting every natural water body around us and boring the ground beneath us dry. We are even trading and transporting water to far off destinations.

Such gross and unabashed mismanagement of our water resources is the start of a crisis that, if not tackled in the next few years, is bound to doom us all.

… Continued in Part 2

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Water – Makes or Breaks Societies

The power of water is such that no nation or entity can fight it forever, and this is the main reason why water has always influenced the peace & stability on our planet. In the near future, the richest people and countries will be classified on the basis of the amount of water they own or control and not on the basis of the size of the land they
occupy, the industries they run or other assets that they possess.

Just as the energy from the Sun or nature’s forces like cyclones, hurricanes or earthquakes cannot be divided and are for all people to share and bear likewise the air, snowfall, rivers, rain and the groundwater are indivisible and its abundance or lack thereof are destined to be shared by all, be it for good or bad.

Human Right to Water
The Human Right to Water

The UN has declared access to clean drinking water as a basic human right. Any attempt to control water as a social, economic or political tool goes against the principles of humanity and encroaches upon fundamental human rights.

One individual or entity thus cannot be permitted to appropriate a resource that belongs to all, especially the most important resource for life – water.

Surface and groundwater are public resources which should be managed by public entities. Since, water is as shared resource for all people in a region it needs to be handled and allocated by public institutions and agencies of a government of the people. A government chosen by the people is finally responsible to look after the needs of the people.

When the control of water is designed to benefit individuals or companies, as the recent events in California have showcased, few become rich and in the clatter of their
riches, the voice of so many water-starved people goes unheard.

In order to maintain peace & stability in any country, the administrative authorities from the local communities in the villages right through to the state and national levels must ensure the safety of its water resources and stock. It is essential for the state to make clean water available to all its citizens, without jeopardizing the availability of this resource to future generations.

Just like the Police acts as a government’s primary agency for maintaining law & order and is tasked with apprehending criminals, the water management agencies bear the vital mandate of safeguarding and controlling access to our most important shared resource. And just like the Police does not to merely publish the annual statistics on crimes committed, the water management authorities cannot merely collect data or keep on only classifying locations with depleting water resources as critical.

The water management agencies have to maintain a strict vigil on the water table in a region. With the help of advanced telemetry, these agencies should monitor the monthly depletion of the water table and undertake aggressive and proactive actions to stop it.

Such proactive actions to reduce groundwater depletion include installing new artificial water recharge structures to restore more water than that being extracted. These actions additionally include constant silt removal efforts to prevent sedimentation from reducing water holding capacity of ponds, lakes and reservoirs.

Through such measures, the water management agencies can report to the public about their the availability of water and also help establish a proper balance between water extraction and renewal so that the water table is not allowed to decline.

One thing is for sure – the demand for water will never decline, rather it will continue to rise due to many reasons – the biggest of them being, rise in human population and increased livestock. This factor by itself requires expansion of agricultural activity,  additional infrastructure and other human activity – all of which call for consuming more and more water every year.

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