Water is the new gold

Some time ago I wrote a post about what I thought would be the next big thing. For some years I have wondered what, after the Internet and the mobile phone, would be the only thing that would capture the imagination and business acumen of the world. My suggestion in that blog post was that the next big step would be garbage management, primarily garbage disposal.

Reading an article on BBC news online, I have to revise that thought. The next big thing is going to be water. The article comments that a huge underground lake has been found in the Sudanese region of Darfur. This is the area where some of the worst human atrocities are taking place with some 200,000 people killed and 2 million displaced since 2003.

The article further points out that a good part of the conflict can be attributed to the search for water. Arab nomads and black African farmers struggle for this precious resource in a region where drought has led to the expansion of desert areas and agriculture has been reduced to subsistence levels.

Deserts appear to have increased by an average of 100 km over the last 40 years and almost 12% of forest cover has been lost in the last 15 years. The forests are likely to have been cut down to provide basic fuel, i.e. firewood.

It is probably fair to say that climate change has been a contributing factor to the desertification of the area. However, it would probably also be fair to say that poor management of existing resources, as well as the inherent inability to plan for the future, could also be causes. Sudan after all touches the ocean. There is a lot of water there. It sure is salt water. But some really profitable desalination processes have been developed.

It is a fairly typical way of dealing with the threats facing humanity. It’s called sticking your head in the sand. I lived in Cape Town, South Africa during a few years of drought. The area meets its water needs through dams and reservoirs. During some years of scant rainfall, the water levels in the dams had fallen to alarmingly low levels. The water was restricted to homes and businesses.

The city decided that it needed another dam, as the expansion of Cape Town meant that the existing services were not up to the task. On the other hand, Cape Town is surrounded by the sea. And indeed, in the Western Cape, scientists have developed a new desalination procedure that greatly reduced costs per liter of drinking water, and indeed, in terms of price, was quite competitive with water supplied through dams. .

The city of Cape Town decided not to use the desalination plants because they had not been shown to work efficiently elsewhere. The city’s politicians weren’t going to take chances with a new technology. We better ration the water and hope that a new dam will supply the water. Of course one waits for it to rain to fill the dam.

This kind of limiting point of view and lack of political courage is widespread. Civil servants are not prepared to take a chance on new technology in case it means that if the implementation is not successful, they could end up losing their jobs.

It is not known if Sudan even considered desalination plants. This is in addition to the fact that it has apparently been known for a long time that there were underground lakes in the Darfur area. But the Sudanese government had not wanted to spend the money looking for new water resources. Instead, he was prepared to allow a war to happen. I guess the poor farmers didn’t care enough.

Reminiscent of one of the movies that show the future as wastelands with marauding criminals grabbing whatever they can with a small group of ethical warriors fighting a losing battle, bring in Arnold Schwarzenegger. Is this what we’re headed for? Is this a fight over scarce resources, which could have been replaced by some foresight and planning and possibly some courage on the part of politicians? On the other hand, the stifling of innovative designs for automobiles that are not dependent on gasoline comes to mind as another example.

Whatever reasons have seen humanity sit back and watch parts of the world turn to desert, it will undoubtedly be something that future generations will regret. Just what Israel has managed to achieve in its country, which is not exactly situated in lush tropical forests, is proof that flourishing agriculture can be developed in arid countries.

However, fighting the effects of global warming requires smart thinking, planning and following through. It seems that the government of Sudan could not do this. The effects of global warming also require a mindset that understands that humanity is capable of extraordinary achievement. Therefore, there is no need for humans to sit back and allow ‘fate’ to dictate that they will run out of water and thus die of starvation and disease.

Possibly it was the fact that the Sudanese government leaders needed to build new palaces and buy planes for themselves that kept them from worrying about water. These important activities took precedence over such efforts as ensuring that their citizens had water.

Whatever the reason, there was really no need for the people of Darfur to have to fight for water resources. Unfortunately, I do not think this will be the last time that the world will defraud and disappoint its citizens. And it will not be the last time that the citizens of the world will have to fight for water resources.

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