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Running Water Runs Dry

A sustainability issue that we rarely hear about is that of water.  It’s often overlooked, though the impact of having fresh water (or the lack thereof) is felt worldwide.  Lacking clean water leads to food shortages, health disparities, and massive death tolls.  I have to be honest, I’m not very well versed in the complexities of the world’s water however, I’d like to share the few things that I know.

  1. Deserts are more arid, droughts are getting worse, and rivers are drying up.  The Yellow River doesn’t even flow to the Sea anymore (that’s the second largest river in China).  Global warming is continuing to intensify unless we do something.
  2. Considering that there are almost 7 billion people on this planet, it’s an epic failure that 1 billion of those still don’t have access to clean drinking water.
  3. Some people (aka large American Corporations) want to privatize water.   Basically, they want to consider it a commodity in order to make money by charging us for it.  There are several issues that come up with the issue of privatization:

Will water be more efficiently supplied if it’s done privately?  Maybe.  No one can say for sure, but as someone who works for the NYC government, I certainly wouldn’t call government (public) sector efficient.  (I hope I don’t lose my job because of this blog post – love you, NYC Health).  A major problem that currently exists is the infrastructure of water delivery.  Even in some developed countries, researchers estimate that up to 50% of potable water is lost due to leaky pipes and wasted.

What will the effect be on the protection of water as a necessary resource?  Well, for-profit privatization is directly opposed to conservation.  What’s the point of investing millions of dollars to make a profit on a product that you would tell people they should use less of?  That’s just bad business practice.

How will this affect the poor, particularly in undeveloped nations?  I’m torn on this issue because I can see both sides.  On one hand, the poor already pay (usually each other) to carry water from dirty rivers to towns.  They also pay with their health; dirty water causes a slew of bacterial infections and poses many health risks.  On the other hand, if there is a charge for clean water, farmers who currently receive state-funded irrigation will be forced to pay more.  The privatized model implemented in Cochabamba, Bolivia led to ‘water wars’ and collapsed – though over 600,000 people are still without water.

How will this affect me?  Many believe that this is a debate between need and profit.  As an American, you probably don’t go without water, unless, of course, you’re low-income.  In Detroit, there have been many accounts of people being unable to pay their water bills.  If water were privatized (say, like oil), your bill would be at the whim of the private sector and much of those profits would be returned to shareholders, not reinvested in the system.

While I’m not armed with enough knowledge to have a viable solution to this problem, I feel strongly that we, as a world, need to address it.  I love being able to turn on a faucet and clean drinking water flows freely and I’m willing to fight for that right for myself and for everyone.

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