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“Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and therefore, a basic human right.”

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General.

pg 2

In our ancient past, tribes that had unfettered access to water rose to power, leaving hunting and gathering societies behind – harnessing the wealth of agriculture, which depended on water, gave rise to civilization. Agriculture not only grounded and rooted people, it also helped them stockpile food, staving starvation during hard times, and conferred wealth and power to those with abundance. The greatest empires in the last 4000 years found water integral to its rise, from the Roman to Egyptian empires, from China to the Indian empires, from the Aztecs to the Mayan Empires. Egypt’s rise to power depended on the Nile, while Rome’s aqueducts and piping for distributing water still stand today as testimony of their preeminence: Rome’s management and movement of water for drinking, bathing and waste management help support a population of over one million people – the first major city to house over a million habitants over 2000 years ago. Rome’s dominion over its vast territories depended on water primarily for agriculture. Food was just as valuable as gold for Rome, for without adequate food to feed a concentrated population in a small area like Rome (and of course, their vast army), you risk collapse of the empire. And part of Rome’s need to conquer territories was predicated on the need for more arable land to grow food.

Water today still constitutes a major portion of the world’s consumption in agriculture as did in the past; 40 percent of the earth’s surface is now comprised of agricultural land that was once forest – most of that is allocated to growing single crop like sorghum and wheat for livestock feed like cattle – taking with it the potential for carbon sinks and disturbing the hydrological cycle.
3 So it’s not surprising what length countries, regions or cities, whose access to water is suddenly curtailed through encroachment, mismanagement, overuse or shortages as result of climate change, will go to secure their access or rights to water. “Despite the critical need, investment in water management has dropped by more than 25% in most countries since the late 1990s” (World Bank, 2010) . 2 For you can manage to survive without food for 20 to 40 days, but you cannot survive without water for more than 3 or 4 days -- even the tiniest of insects depend on water. Have you ever seen a honey bee desperately trying to get access to a water bottle in a city during a drought? In times of plenty, water is taken for granted: We bathed in it, wash our clothes, our dishes, our cars, and water our lawns. We used it to wash all inorganic impurities, from manufacturing and processing, to fracking and carry both our inorganic and organic waste to the oceans.

And yet despite the perception of its abundance, most of us are unaware of its increasing scarcity in other parts of the world. About one in three of the world's population does not have access to adequate sanitation,
4 and about one billion do not have access to clean water.5 Water tables of Aquifers worldwide are dropping at rates that cannot be replenished in our lifetime. Especially when these same Aquifers took thousands if not millions of years to recharge. Given the projected growth of the world’s population, and the demand for water to grow food for that population - agriculture accounts for roughly 80% of the world's water consumption -- that depletion will be exacerbated by climate change, inevitably pitting nations and states alike for access to water. 6

Take the water table in Colorado River Basin, for example. For many years it provided water for five states, for agriculture, for energy, for waste treatment, recreation, and for living. Those states are now forced to implement dramatic measures to manage their consumption. Only now are long term water management planning being carefully considered to deal with the projected decline, and states that depend on the water from the Colorado River must negotiate their respective rations. The US Geological Survey estimated that water table fell over 100 feet in states such as Oregon, Texas, Washington, Iowa, Arkansas, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, just to name a few. 7

Brazil, for example, experienced the worst drought in 60 years in 2014.


If the dust bowl of the 1930s, which lasted almost 8 years and destroyed much of the ecology and agriculture in the US and Canada, wasn’t a painful reminder of land (and water) mismanagement that led to that ecological disaster, then one wonders now, 90 years later, how will we adapt to the consequences of the draining of groundwater that took hundreds of thousands of years to recharge. To be sure, there are technologies that have risen to address contaminated water supply for drinking on  a small scale, however, it does not address water scarcity for farming, nor will it scale to meet the  demand from growing population in urban areas, unaccustomed to rationing diminishing water supply? It is something that hasn’t been carefully considered.

Already farmers are abandoning farms that experienced dramatic water declines in their wells removing needed farms for agriculture. In fact, The World Economic Forum has identified water crisis as the top five global risks. And though climate change or global warming have commanded a great deal of attention over the last 10 to 15 years, there isn’t a lot we can do in the short term that can stave the long term effects of climate change. If it’s taken us over 200 years to alter the climate through industrialization, it’s unlikely that we’ll fix it in a few short years. The best we can hope for are long term, and carefully thought out solutions to brace for its effect and plan for a way to mitigate further damage, hopefully not at the expense of other equally important endeavors whose effects does not depend on long term planning. Water, on the other hand, is felt immediately. The dust bowl of the 30s was attributed in part to the mechanization of tilling the land for agriculture, quickly stripping the topsoil on a grand scale that took thousands of years to accumulate, devastating the ecology in a short period, which subsequently took decades to restore. But that is nothing compared to restoring desperately needed water in underground aquifers or above ground reservoirs if drastic measures on a large scale are not taken ahead of time. Once water is either greatly diverted, contaminated or diminished with mismanagement, how will people ration and share the remaining water equally among themselves without protestation, conflict or war?


Rob Lake
Recycling For Charities




1 The many mysteries of water. New Scientist, Daily News, February 3, 2010

No liquid behaves quite as oddly as water. It exhibits a raft of unusual behaviours, many of which are essential for life as we know it.

Water Properties and Measurements

Water Molecules Still Shrouded in Mystery - Unlocking the secrets of the mysterious structure and patterns of motion of water molecules.

Spring-8, Japan Synchrotron Radiaton Research Institute


"Scientists now admit they don't understand the intricacies of how water works....

"The structure of water - the reason for its peculiar properties - is a major question in chemistry and physics, said Richard Saykally from University of California, Berkeley." Michael Schirber, LiveScience, The New Mystery of Water December 1, 2004,  https://www.livescience.com/3724-mystery-water.html

2 Sacred Healing Rituals Using Water. 2017 The Spirit of Water, “Healing water rituals have existed in all cultures since recorded time and are thought to have existed in pre-historic cultures for millions of years. Most ancient cultures maintain spiritual creation stories
crediting water as the origin of life.”

3 UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Agriculture is by far the leading user of freshwater worldwide, accounting for almost 85% of global consumption.” The Emerging Global Water Crisis: Managing Scarcity and Conflict Between Water Users. William A.Jury, Henry J.Vaux, Jr., Advances in Agronomy, 2007, Pages 1-76.

4 The Global Water Crisis: Addressing an Urgent Security Issue, Papers for the InterAction Council, 2011-2012 Edited by Harriet Bigas with Tim Morris, Bob Sandford and Zafar Adeel

(WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report 2014 update)  

6 (WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report 2014)

7Freshwater resources are often shared by two or more countries which may lead to more international conflicts as freshwater becomes more scarce. The United Nations has identified 276 transboundry river basins and 200 transboundry aquifers. While treaties have outpaced acute disputes over the past 50 years (150 verses 37), the US director of national intelligence warned in a 2012 report that overuse of water could potentially threaten US national security. http://www.seametrics.com/blog/water-shortage-consequences/

 8The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water for nearly 40 million people and more than 5 million acres of farmland. While its reservoirs have receded, heavy pumping of groundwater has also led to declining aquifers in parts of the river basin.  Nevada, California, Arizona are forced to share in cutting back their withdrawals from it. [The Desert Sun, Oct 21, 16, Ian James]




Recycling For Charities


2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, one in three of the world's  population. 1
750 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. 2

(WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation 2014)
Achieving universal access to safe water and sanitation would save 2.5 million lives every year.
Copyright © 2001 Recycling For Charities. All rights reserved. Revised: 08/26/16