The Platform

Villagers in Bhiwandi, India climb a municipal water tanker. Scenes like these are common as droughts become more frequent. (Manoej Paateel)

Water is a fundamental human right but it’s increasingly under threat.

The United Nations has pointed out the following facts concerning water:

Today, 1 in 3 people live without safe drinking water; by 2050, up to 5.7 billion people could be living in areas where water is scarce for at least one month a year; climate-resilient water supply and sanitation could save the lives of more than 360,000 infants every year; if we limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, we could cut climate-induced water stress by up to 50%; extreme weather has caused more than 90% of major disasters over the last decade.

By 2040, global energy demand is projected to increase by over 25%, and water demand is expected to increase by more than 50%.

Clearly, water is a crucial resource, and the future well-being of human society depends on how well we manage our global supply of fresh water. This will require a high level of international cooperation and social justice.

In many countries, large corporations have taken control of water supplies, and are now selling water at prices that poor citizens cannot afford. Canadian author Maude Barlow is leading the struggle against the commodification of water. As a result of her efforts, the United Nations has declared water to be a human right. This is particularly important at a time when fresh water is becoming increasingly scarce.

Here are a few things that Maude Barlow has said:

“There is simply no way to overstate the water crisis of the planet today.”

“We are committed with our lives to building a different model and a different future for humanity, the Earth, and other species. We have envisaged a moral alternative to economic globalization, and we will not rest until we see it realized.”

“No piecemeal solution is going to prevent the collapse of whole societies and ecosystems…a radical re-thinking of our values, priorities and political systems is urgent.”

Falling water tables in China may cause famine in Africa

After a lecture at the University of Copenhagen, Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute was asked which resource would be the first to become critically scarce. Everyone in the audience expected him to say oil, but instead, he said fresh water. He went on to explain that falling water tables in China would soon make China unable to feed its population. This would not cause famine in China because of the strength of the Chinese economy, which would allow the Chinese to purchase grain on the world market. However, shortages of fresh water in China would indeed cause famine, for example in Africa, because Chinese demand for grain would raise prices on the world market beyond the ability of poor countries to pay.

The threat of a large-scale global famine

Unless efforts are made to stabilize and ultimately reduce the global population, there is a serious threat that climate change, population growth, and the end of the fossil fuel era could combine to produce a large-scale famine by the middle of the 21st century.

As glaciers melt in the Himalayas and the Andes, depriving India, China, and South America of summer water supplies; as sea levels rise, drowning fertile rice-growing regions of Southeast Asia; as droughts reduce the food production of North America and Southern Europe; as groundwater levels fall in China, India, the Middle East, and the United States; and as high-yield modern agriculture becomes less possible because fossil fuel inputs are lacking, there is a danger that a famine involving billions of people, rather than millions, may occur.

My own book on water

Interested readers may download and circulate my book on water free of charge from the following link.

Check out some of my freely downloadable books by clicking here.

John Scales Avery was born in 1933 in Lebanon, where his father was Professor of Anatomy at the American University of Beirut. He received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London. He is the author of numerous books and articles, both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. In 1969 he founded the Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes, and he served as its Managing Editor until 1980. He also served as Technical Advisor to the World Health Organization between 1988 and 1997, and as Chairman of the Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs between 1990 and the present.