Sunday, May 07, 2006

Global Water Crisis--Intro

There are so many problems in this world, it is hard to focus on just one. Rising energy costs is one that is capturing headlines at the moment but a related and more tragic one is the emerging (in many places already critical) global water crisis. For those new to the topic, a global water crisis my sound like a joke, since the planet is 3/4 covered with water. Obviously I'm talking about drinkable water, and there is a massive ongoing crisis due to its scarcity in multiple places around the planet. This site has a quick one page summary of the situation

Only a couple percent of all the water on the planet is freshwater (i.e. not salty) suitable for drinking. Less than a percent of this freshwater is available to us (the rest is tied up in polar ice-caps or underground aquifers). All the freshwater we encounter and use (rivers, lakes, reservoirs and shallow wells) for everything we do comes from this tiny sliver of freshwater. Because of pollution, even this tiny sliver may be overestimating what is actually usable.

The result is that each year over a billion people get sick, and approximately 2 million people die from diseases related to drinking unsafe water. About 80% of those that die each year are children under five. This is staggering if you think about it; every day unsafe water kills more children than all the people that died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and every month kills nearly as many people as the December 2004 tsunami.

Access to clean drinking water is a BIG problem.
In the near term, people are working hard to protect existing clean water sources and provide more people with wells, rainwater catchments and water-treatment technologies. Despite the Herculean efforts underway, we are barely treading water in terms of solving the problem.
In the long term, the solution requires desalination (removing salt from seawater) which in turn requires energy...a whole lot of energy.

Even if the developed world can stop using more energy, bringing the developing world up to a basic standard of health and sanitation will require massive growth in energy consumption. I say this not to be pessimistic but to underline the scope of the challenge that lies ahead.


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