Lately, whenever I open the tap, whether it’s to wash my face or vegetables, apocalyptic scenarios of the very near future, rush through my imagination. A skeletal future where food, water, heat, electricity shortages, and rations will be routine and diseases spread like wildfire. I see herds of people, globally, falling through the cracks. From those who had planned a serene retirement, to all the young who have little to look forward to.
The term Water Wars gets 654 million results on Google, and many of us are alarmed and some, like myself, are imagining worst-case scenarios. A bleak picture, to say the least. We are living in an era where reality is scarier than any apocalyptic fiction, with or without zombies.
If you type “water shortage” in Google you’ll get about 86,300,000 results and you’ll run across so many contradictory articles, that it’s hard to know what and who to believe, so I know I’m probably not alone with my dark visions of the future.
You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone
8 years ago, in a washroom where I worked, I expressed my disapproval of a colleague’s teeth brushing routine. She kept the water running the whole time. She gave me a look that said, mind your own business. She’s been on my mind this year since much of Europe is experiencing extreme drought and some districts were rationed during the summer months. I ask myself whether she’s changed her ways.
What causes me grief is that no matter how much some of us really make the effort to reduce waste, just as many don’t, including big businesses and corporations.
The general public is definitely becoming more aware of the value of water and more importantly the uncertainties posed by climate change. As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
Resource Shortages Induce Conflict
I recently discovered, while searching through google’s 86,300,000 results, that 53 international river basins are shared by three or more nations, however, these are mostly managed by bilateral treaties which can, and often do aggravate tensions in times of strife, such as droughts.
Let me use the most recent environmental disaster as an example; in July 2022, when tons of lifeless fish began washing up on the banks of the river Oder, which runs along the borders of Germany and Poland, it didn’t take long for the situation to deteriorate. Recent news reports make it clear that there is no functional cross-border environmental protection plan or program, and no efficient exchange of information between municipalities along the border either.
One would think that water issues, as in this case, would be a good enough reason for cooperation, instead, it seems it has become a source of conflict for various interest groups.
At the 1992 Earth Summit, Fidel Castro said ” Consumer societies are chiefly responsible for this appalling environmental destruction. Stop transferring to the Third World lifestyles and consumer habits that ruin the environment. Make human life more rational. Adopt a just international economic order. Use science to achieve sustainable development without pollution. Pay the ecological debt. Eradicate hunger and not humanity.”
Whether or not you were a Fidel Castro fan, it’s a little difficult to disagree with his argument. Maybe Fidel was having a good day laying all of the blame on his capitalist rivals at the Earth Summit, still, I believe he was right and that we’ve maxed out. The planet can no longer sustain continued increases in urbanization and industrial activities.
Are We Heading For Water Wars?
In the International Journal of Water Resources Development, Volume 35 dated July 2019, they argue we should take the water crisis with a pinch of salt. According to their reports, how much renewable water a country has is not a meaningful metric, however, they do state that the amount of available water will depend primarily on how well this resource is managed.
The International Journal of Water Resources Development advises us against this sort of thinking. The article maintains that it is wrong to think in terms of water shortages, because “A direct by-product of this current limited thinking has been the increasing focus on ‘water wars’ between countries because of lack of water, whereas the Palmer Drought Index paints a dreary picture, “2021 began with 82.0% of the West experiencing moderate to extreme drought. The percentage dropped to 79.0 percent by the end of February but shot up to 99.0 percent by the end of June 2021.”
That was 2021, can’t wait to see the data for 2022.
Fighting over water won’t magically produce more water. Many countries need to significantly improve water management practices, reduce the demand for all types of water uses, and control water contamination. Even volume 35 of the International Journal of Water Resources Development clearly outlines there is no feasible scenario where a country can increase water availability progressively, constantly, and cost-effectively without limits, forever. Only if countries improve water management practices, which some are gradually doing, water problems can be solved.
I’ve always been a conservationist and an active advocate for the environment. I’m that person who saves the water used to cook pasta or potatoes for watering plants. I’m that person who uses other people’s garbage to make works of art. I’m that person who will tell you not to buy a Nespresso or any kind of coffee maker that uses pods. I’m that person who will tell you to turn off your car, while you’re waiting for a friend who hasn’t shown up yet. I’m that person who gets on some people’s nerves.
I started one of the very first paper recycling projects, in downtown Toronto’s Dominion Twin Towers, when I was gainfully employed at Ernst & Young in the late 80s. At Sky Italia, in Milan where I worked for 17 years, I was actively engaged in creating environmental awareness, within the company, for several years.
During the years I was actively involved in introducing environmental awareness and recycling into corporate environments, reminding people to recycle, reuse and reduce waste, one of the harsh realities that I encountered was that regardless of the number of people that jumped on board, there were just as many that remained oblivious.
Regardless of your stance, as a business or individual, it wouldn’t hurt if we all made an effort to save ourselves by salvaging our planet. Let’s all work together to make the constructive changes we so desperately need. Together we can go a long way in creating a better more sustainable future for humankind.