Feb 15, 2009

Water bankruptcy

RARELY, a week goes by without a problem of water scarcity hitting the headlines. The acute droughts in Kenya, Argentina and the US state of California are among the latest phenomena to illustrate that the global environment has been dangerously degraded.And participants in the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, heard that the planet could be destined towards “water bankruptcy”.It might surprise many to learn that water issues are not directly included in the Kyoto protocol, the main international agreement on tackling climate change. Ensuring that this omission is not replicated in a follow-up accord scheduled to be finalised at talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, near the end of 2009, was one of the main topics addressed at a conference in Brussels on Feb 12 and 13.According to Maude Barlow, an adviser on water to the United Nations General Assembly, the underlying assumptions made by many decision-makers have been misguided. Whereas they have tended to view water shortage as a consequence of climate change, the unsustainable exploitation of water is in fact “one of the major causes of climate change.”Millions of roses sold in Europe to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year have originated in Africa’s Rift Valley. The habitat of the hippopotamus, an endangered species, its water supplies have been heavily drained by agri-business companies involved in the flower trade.While private entrepreneurs have profited handsomely from this situation, Africa contains some of the worst incidences of water-related diseases on earth. More children die from such diseases than the next three causes of death combined. Data by the World Health Organisation suggests that 80 per cent of infectious diseases in the world could be caused by dirty water.Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president, said that the conventional model of economic development being followed in much of the world is in crisis. “The unsustainability of this model is reflected by the water problem,” he added. “A recent report by the UN Development Programme said that at least 700 million people — until recently it was one billion — face a shortage of water. At the same time, demand for water is growing all the time.”During 2008 the UN’s Human Rights Council decided to carry out a three-year investigation into how access to water relates to basic rights.About one billion people worldwide do not have access to an adequate supply of drinking water, and 2.5 billion are not guaranteed the amount of water they need for sanitation. Despite the underlying issues of justice, water has been increasingly viewed by policymakers as an economic good, rather than as a universal right over the past few decades.The bottled water industry, for example, registered global sales of 200 billion litres in plastic containers last year. Almost 90 per cent of these bottles were dumped, rather than recycled.By David Cronin

No comments:

Post a Comment