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Conserving water

Conserving water

Both developed and emerging economies are failing to adequately address the challenge of managing water supplies, according to Arab News. This editorial explains the issues.

October 5, 2010 2:29 by

In rich nations, people often fail to grasp the underlying problems with water supplies because tap water is clean.

As such, “Rivers in Crisis”, the front cover of the latest issue of the journal Nature might not evince so much as a second thought to those living in the West.

However, perhaps the most startling conclusion of the new study is that rivers in the developed world, including much of the US and Western Europe, are under severe threat despite decades of attention to pollution control and investments in environmental protection.

The reason is that in the industrialized world, the water management strategy is to patch up the problems at the end of the pipeline rather than the underlying causes. Other nations are, therefore, urged not to follow the rich when it comes to managing rivers, ranging from dams for hydroelectric plants to building artificial barriers to allow cropland on flood plains. Instead, governments are asked to invest in water-management strategies that combine infrastructure with natural options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and floodplains.

Rising wealth often means worsening threats, for instance from badly sited dams or rising pollution from fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. Rich nations then cover up mismanagement by installing costly treatment plants. Thus, even rich countries, which one would expect to be good stewards of water, have some of the most stressed and threatened areas because of the “trillions of dollars worth of engineering palliatives that have totally reconfigured the threat landscape,” the study argues. Those trillions of dollars are represented by the dams, canals, aqueducts, and pipelines that have been used throughout the developed world to safeguard drinking water supplies.

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