There is an ongoing legal debate about who owns the clouds that are developed through weather modification methods known as cloud seeding. They involve burning silver iodide and dispersing it from a plane through a seeding generator, or firing it from a canon to help a cloud produce rain or snow. Such experiments, which belong to the field of climate engineering, have been evolving considerably over the past century.
Such a debate is not surprising considering that water covers 97% of the Earth’s surface, but only 3% of this water is suitable for human consumption. Around 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water. There are two points of view when looking at securing this precious resource. One relates to local and global policies, and the other to technology.
During the 1980s, water began to be defined as a commodity, and water authorities began to be privatized at a wide scale. Water prices skyrocketed as a result, and in some cases became unaffordable. Serious issues are arising from this control of private companies over the public’s water sources. These companies are after profit, and governments often have failed to put in place the necessary regulations that protect the public’s right to water. Surprisingly, the United Nations did not include water as a global issue in its Millennium Development Goals established in 2000. The World Health Organization, however, has made considerable efforts over the last twenty years to provide about two billion people with access to clean water sources, and in 2010, the UN recognized the human right to water and sanitation in Resolution 64/292, which stipulates that clean water should be accessible and affordable. Not only is the accessibility to affordable clean water a basic human need, but its inaccessibility and scarcity may very well lead to water wars between countries.
When I moved to Vancouver in Canada, I initially bought water bottles for drinking water. I continued to do what I used to do in Jordan, where many feel that the water coming from the water authority is not suitable for drinking without boiling or filtering. I eventually found out that tap water in Vancouver is suitable for drinking without any treatment. I also found out that it is free. There is no metering system for water consumption, even though the average per capita consumption of water there is around 519 liters/day. I found this a luxury, particularly when considering how Jordanians, whose average per capita consumption varies from 7 to 145 liters/day, measure their water usage by the drop and how the water supply may be disrupted for extended periods in the summer.
Water scarcity is a concern in most arid climates. Water often is collected in dams or retrieved from ground-water sources. Serious measures for water conservation are put in place, and rainwater harvesting and storage are a way of life. Dams, however, disturb existing ecosystems and choke the running of rivers. Over the long term, water stored in dams may become contaminated by mercury. As for ground water, it is an unpredictable resource in that its quantities cannot be determined with certainty. Moreover, the depletion of ground-water resources will raise salinity levels in the soil above it, rendering it barren.
Seawater desalination is another source for drinking water. There are nearly 12,500 desalination plants around the world that produce fourteen million m3/day of fresh water, or about 1% of world consumption. These desalination plants primarily are located in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), in the states of California and Florida in the United States, and in Australia, with the largest number located in the MENA region, mainly in the Gulf countries. Although desalination technologies have developed tremendously and have minimized the amount of energy used in the process to about three to four kwh/m3 (Kilowatt-hours per cubic meter), desalination is still expensive and it generates considerable greenhouse gas emissions. If desalination may be powered by renewable energy, that would make it less destructive environmentally and would bring down the energy costs associated with it.
Agriculture takes up 70% of global fresh water consumption. Water today is being exported indirectly through agricultural products. For example, a single apple can consume 99 liters of water to grow. China, a country that faces water-scarcity problems, exports apples to the United States, where it is cheaper to import apples than to cultivate them. Developing countries often invest in cheap-labor agricultural projects that consume a lot of water and therefore deprive their populations of scarce water resources.
Water challenges are becoming more complicated in spite of the impressive developments taking place in water conservation and water recycling. The increasing demand for water exceeds the existing supply. Education and awareness are the most effective ways to get people to understand the pressing environmental issues we are facing regarding water. There are no easy solutions to these issues, but there are smart solutions that respect nature and meet our needs. It is important for everyone to know where our water is coming from and where it is going.
Nourhan Al Kurdi
April 30, 2013
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