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Water fight: Part two

Water fight: Part two

In the second part of our water analysis, Kipp explores ways to combat water scarcity. With the issue rapidly climbing both social and political agendas, the imperative to act is growing.

July 13, 2010 5:27 by

“Without water security, social, economic and national stability are imperiled,” Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in 2000. “This is magnified where water flows across borders – and becomes crucial in regions of religious, territorial or ethnic tension.” The former Russian statesman and Nobel laureate stressed the diplomatic imperative presented by the water scarcity crisis.

A diplomatic solution to water resource allocation is certainly the ideal, but for the Mideast region, the numbers reveal that more than this will be required – we’ll need technological solutions, too. With 5 percent of the earth’s population, the Middle East contains less than 1 percent of the earth’s fresh water.

Our oceans contain 97 percent of the earth’s water, making desalination techniques worthy of continued research and investment. Although critics contend that desalination is too expensive and energy intensive to be a sustainable solution, recent innovations using nano-technology may significantly decrease its cost– by as much as 75 percent according to estimates from the Arlington Institute, a non-profit research institute that specializes in thinking about global futures.

More efficient water crop irrigation techniques, including carefully controlled drip irrigation systems, for example, also hold the potential to drastically slash water use. The technology is neither expensive, nor sophisticated, which makes it particularly important in developing countries, where a greater percentage of the water supply may be used for crop irrigation than in more developed nations.

Privatization of water management services has also been suggested as a way to increase efficiency, innovation, and maintenance. Particularly in developed nations, a market-oriented approach would be expected to provide the incentives to achieve more efficient management.

Differentiated systems of water purification and use are also gaining attention.
“The water used to wash your car, water your lawn or to do a load of laundry doesn’t need to be as pure as the cold glass of water that quenches your thirst on a hot, summer day,” according to Asghar Sabbaghi, professor of decision sciences at Indiana University South Bend. “The water used to clean boilers at a food manufacturing plant does not need to be as pure as the water which goes into the food products themselves,” he adds.

And don’t forget conservation and trade. Examples include reclaiming water for reuse, capturing rainwater, implementing dry sewage systems, and sharing water across borders as a commodity of trade. Reclamation of water is an idea which is gaining support in the Gulf, where Abu Dhabi recently announced plans to introduce quotas on the use of treated sewage water for agriculture, landscaping and cooling purposes. According to Majid al Mansouri, the secretary general of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, the UAE government has now identified treated water as a resource in its own right.

Finally, countries can be more intelligent about the water they use. As landscape architect Geoff Sanderson pointed out to the National, “There has also been too much landscaping in a country [the UAE] that can ill-afford the water needed for this. Abu Dhabi does not need all the shrubbery and grass. It is a total waste.” The UAE is one of many countries that may soon have to accept certain limitations on lifestyle.

But where there is will (and necessity), there is a way. This adage is particularly apt in the matter of the region’s water scarcity. Adequate drinking water is non-negotiable. What is negotiable, experts contend, is the quality of water that is used for the diverse functions, financial investments in technology, and the willingness of citizens to pay for greater efficiency – and most importantly to use less.

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