From Sidcup To The Euphrates
An Outline Of The World Water Crisis
Entering the debate on the worlds water resources can feel as if you are drowning in its complexity. Most debates begin with the relatively comprehendible statistics that 1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water, and that 97.5% of the worlds water is salt water. The immediate assumption is that this problem, even at this scale of magnitude, has a technical fix. Surely the solution is to remove salt from the water and distribute to those without? Given that 70% of the worlds population lives within 50 miles of coastal areas , surely the bulk of any problem is a failure of political will, and not due to inherent economic or scientific barriers?
It is true that the technology needed to remove salt from water (desalination) is not inherently complex, and a diverse array of methods for achieving this are in existence. As of 17th March 2003 Saudi Arabia was providing 70% of its drinking water with desalinated water. Impressive statistics such as this belie the underlying limitations. Desalination is highly energy intensive, which creates the problem of it being necessary to have an affordable and reliable energy source, and the problem that considering that 85% of freshwater is used in agriculture and other industries, the prospect of creating massive and energy
intensive water industries to feed the other industries is currently beyond the limits of even the richest nations.
With a grand technical fix initially discounted, this discussion will look at ways in which competition for this scarce resource are expressed. Whether it's competition between nations which share river systems, competition between corporations and communities they inhabit, or conflict within the communities themselves, the underlying tension is always the same; that while other resources may be scarce and generate fierce competition, water is unique in that it both has no substitutes and it is vital for survival. Within this scheme I will outline the complexity of the problem on technical, social, political and
economic levels, while at the same time attempting to distill how these problems may be mitigated even if many of the political barriers remain.