Sam Judd: World war on water

Source: NZ Herald
Date: 2 July 2015
Author: Sam Judd

Dadaab Refugee Camp in Somalia

Out of all the basic necessities for human life, surely water has to be the most important of them all.

But despite how critical it is we seem willing to squander this precious resource, creating economic and health risks as well as conflict.

I have been told that the next world war will be about water and this looks more likely than ever before.

In the last ten years, the Pacific Institute – which studies issues on water and global security – says water-related violence has increased fourfold.

Critical groundwater reserves, monitored by satellites are emptying at alarming rates and the Jordanian royal family – faced with massive pressure from an influx of Syrian refugees – has warned that a war on water could be bloodier than the Arab Spring, which has taken tens of thousands of lives.

This might not be at the top of your mind in the middle of a wet New Zealand winter (even if it has been in previous summers when water shortages have been very real). But let me ask you – how much of the products that you buy are actually made here using our water supply?

The reality is a great deal of our goods come from the Northern Hemisphere, which is currently enduring record-breaking droughts and heat waves that increase the risk of conflict. Cotton, for example, which most of you are wearing right now, doesn’t grow in New Zealand and is an incredibly thirsty plant.

Over 700 million people around the world suffer from not having enough water and over one billion don’t have access to safe drinking water. According to the UN, ten years from now, 1.8 billion people will be living in places with absolute water scarcity and two thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.

Pakistan, which is naturally well-endowed with fresh water is currently undergoing an intense heat wave, coupled with a dire water shortage that has caused over 1200 deaths and 65,000 patients admitted to hospital. Much of the water shortage is because of agriculture – this is one of the most heavily irrigated areas in the world and a place well known for conflict and terrorism.

California is experiencing their worst drought on record, which is causing wildfires and major damage to biodiversity.

The Caribbean is staring down the barrel of the worst drought in five years.

In Nairobi, the water shortage is so bad that officials have resorted to water vending machines.

The Aral Sea – previously one of the world largest inland bodies of water, is almost completely dry because of cotton production which has taken the water and left poisonous chemicals.

So, sitting here on a bleak winters day during which you are hoping it won’t rain, you may think, what can I do?

The good news is that through making the right purchasing decisions we can significantly lessen the impact on the global water shortage. The iconic jeans producers Levi Strauss for example, have managed to reduce their water consumption by over one billion litres by conducting a life-cycle assessment on their products.

Another great example is Puma. While they have a long way to go in terms of water reduction, they are at least disclosing how much they use – a massive step in empowering consumers.

So we can have an impact with our purchasing decisions and perhaps learn from the mistakes of other countries when we decide how we look after this resource that we all need so much.

How could we save water on a personal level? What about at a municipal level?

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