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Importing food means exporting drought
Tom MacMillan, Guardian
We need to change the way we eat if we are to tackle the looming catastrophe of water scarcity
… To tackle water scarcity we need to remind ourselves why it is a problem. The most obvious reason is that we just can’t keep using water at current rates. In practice, running low on a resource can mean that rich places like the UK barely notice while poor people take the hit.
But we’ve been there already with water – other countries have suffered from scarcity for decades – and we’re now at the point where even the big-name companies that feed us are feeling the squeeze and getting seriously worried about the security of their supply chains.
But, just because this problem is now affecting rich countries, it doesn’t mean we’ll carry our fair share of the burden. So the second problem is injustice, destroying other people’s livelihoods as we try to sort out our own supply problems. Just as pulling the rug from under the people who grow our airfreighted fruit and veg due to concerns over air miles is a problem, so too for water-scarce regions.
Then there are ecological consequences of water scarcity: desiccation and poor water quality can destroy species and ecosystems.
So, how to fix the water crisis? The good news is that we’re not short of opportunities. The bad news is that many just swap one problem for another.
(20 August 2008)
Sanitation: Creating a stink about the world’s wastewater
Maggie Black, Guardian
Britain’s sanitary revolution took place 150 years ago, but what is preventing so much of the developing world from catching up?
Exactly 150 years ago, an exceptionally hot spell of summer weather reduced the Thames flowing through London to a scandalous condition known as The Great Stink. Queen Victoria, travelling down the river to Millwall docks, had to contain her nausea by clamping a bouquet to her nose. The fumes were not only foul but terrifying, since they were thought to be pestilential – the source of cholera.
The Great Stink, with its power of concentrating MPs’ faculties, led to the introduction of legislation for the transformation of sewerage in London. An unprecedented sum for a domestic purpose, £3m, was voted for intercepting sewers to be tunnelled along the riverside by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. The act, rushed through by August 1858 was to lead to revolutions in local government and public health engineering throughout the world.
If only such action was expressed today. Great Stinks are still routinely emanated by rivers swollen with raw sewage and reduced to a trickle in the hot season in parts of Asia, Africa and Central America. But the stench does not instil the same degree of terror.
Equivalent attention and massive public investment are desperately needed today on behalf of the 40% of the world’s population – 2.6 billion people – without a means of dealing with the personal waste evacuation process that everyone on the planet has to manage on a daily basis.
(20 August 2008)
Ironically, what was a victory for public health is an ecological nightmare. Modern sewage systems use water in prodigious amounts and flush away the nutrients in human waste. -BA
Guardian special on water
The Guardian has at least eight articles and media presentations on water. In addition to the two articles excerpted above, there are:
Rain hides the danger of drought
UK adds to drain on global water sources
Go against the flow (Editorial)