Monday, June 21, 2010

Water Woes

Water shortages and prolonged drought in Iraq could undermine American foreign policy. India will also suffer future water woes as two watersheds dependent upon glaciers for their water lose that water by 2050 due to climate change(1). The Brahmaputra basin will lose the capacity to feed 34.5 +/- 6.5 million people by 2050. By 2050, the Indus basin will lose the ability to feed 26.3 million +/- 3.0 million people. The Yangtze and Ganges basins will lose the capability to feed 7.1 million +/- 1.3 million and 2.4 +/- 0.2 million people. The Yellow River basin will actually increase capacity due to more rainfall. Better water recovery techniques or desalination technologies may help to alleviate some of these future problems, but it doesn't look good. There are no uniform laws regarding water rights, yet almost all living things need water to survive.

1. Science,328,June 11,2010, pp:1382-1385.


Population increases and rising standards of living (causing greater water consumption per person) may be additional contributors. But no government, even China, seems to be seriously advocating population reduction. Growth is power.

No end to water shortages even if climate change were a myth.

We're doomed, doomed, I think.
Those declines in population were derived from loss of agricultural production in the basins studied. Without water and food, populations will decrease, not increase. Until recently, due to modern sewer systems and public health practices, rural areas' populations always outpaced urban areas' populations. People went to the cities to find jobs, but also found death as the mortality rates were much higher. The advent of modern sewage treatment systems, modern medicine, and better nutrition allowed urban areas to prosper and grow themselves without the high mortality rates of the past. High mortality rates can return. When the Goths destroyed most of Rome's aqueducts around 537 A.D., Rome lost the majority of its water supply and sewer system. The population went from over 1 million people to 100,000 in a very short period of time.

Desalination of seawater or recovery of water from brackish sources may allow populations and agriculture to stabilize at some level. Modern agriculture is water intensive and wasteful. Expect farmers to adopt water conservative methods of irrigation or go out of business. This trend will lead to a few wealthy farmers and agribusinesses owning the majority of the best agricultural land.
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