Posted by: Jack | October 4, 2011

There’s plenty of water – water shortages are a social problem

Water being brought ashore from barges for the parched island of Tokelau in the South Pacific

According to this news report, new research published at the World Water Congress in Brazil has shown that there’s more than enough freshwater in the world to meet the needs of the massively expanding human population of 21st century Earth.

This has been treated as good news, as a sign that the challenge of surviving the current ecological crisis is going to be a bit easier. It’s easy to see why you would think that when confronted with the prospect of a war in Libya that is at least partly about control of water resources; reports that show that not only developing world megacities face water crises in the near future, but that shortages could affect cities as close to the heart of global wealth and power as New York and Los Angeles; and the news that South Pacific nations have declared a state of emergency due to the fouling of their supply by the saltwater of rising sea levels.

The research would seem to fly in the face of masses of scientific studies that all show that the majority of the world’s population is going to have difficulty in accessing fresh water in the coming decades. But in fact, this report seems to be just yet another example of how mainstream scientific opinion by experts in all kinds of fields, when assessing the problems faced by humanity, and followed through to their logical conclusions, are profoundly at odds with the dominant social and economic organisation of global society. Alain Vidal of the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF), argues.

“Yes, there is scarcity in certain areas, but our findings show that the problem overall is a failure to make efficient and fair use of the water available in these river basins. This is ultimately a political challenge, not a resource concern.”

There’s no denial here of the real water crisis affecting the world; just a simple acknowledgment of its roots causes. Like most of the different strands of the intertwined global economic/ecological crisis, water scarcity is a result of the way we organise our society on this planet, through capitalism and militarised imperialism. With global co-operation and a commitment to fair and equitable sharing of resources, there’s enough water on Earth to sustain many more humans than are now alive; just like we could feed that many people too under different socio-economic conditions. Researcher Dr. Simon Cook argues:

“[There’s] complete fragmentation of how river basins are managed amongst different actors and even countries where the water needs of different sectors — agriculture, industry, environment and mining — are considered separately rather than as interrelated and interdependent…In many cases, we need a complete rethink of how government ministries take advantage of the range of benefits coming from river basins, rather than focusing on one sector such as hydropower, irrigation or industry.”

Add to that the fact that competing powers view water resources as strategic assets to be controlled and denied their enemies, and you begin to see the need for major changes to the structure of planetary civilisation in order to survive.

One of the key issues for any movement to save human civilisation from collapse is not allowing the global elite, the rich minority of the human race, to set the terms of understanding the crisis. Water shortages are an issue of inequality on a global scale, not overall supply – don’t let those eating most of the pie tell you there’s not enough to go around.

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