Exploring the Future...until we get there

Category: Water Quality and Supply

Water Everywhere but Here

Sometimes matters get extremely over-complicated when surrounding very basic equations, and for no good reason. Dirac said the most elegant solutions were the simplest. Something undiluted and straightforward usually serves matters best. Consider these three items:

1) Water…as of right now, there has not been even one documented case that I’m aware of in which a human being born on the planet did not require serious quantities of water from the first day they arrived until the last day of breath.

2) Population…also as of right now, we are staring at a world population that is steadily heading toward 8 billion souls, and we’re all constantly thirsty. Of course, quenching that thirst may be the most pressing of our hydration needs, but once we’ve got that licked, there are a hundred and one other reasons why we need and want more water. Washing, cooking, bathing, farming, manufacturing. In myriad ways, big and small, humanity is just plain hungry for yet more water.

3) Water…(yeah, I did that on purpose). So, it’s interesting to me that some of the world’s most prominent organizations would have us believe that we will continue to tackle this challenge of equitable water distribution with the same aplomb that has served us so well in the past. The news tells a different story, with matters of disputed water involving cities, states, regions, countries…all taking up increasing headline space. It’s as if there’s always enough water to go around, but never enough of it right “here.”

So, with the idea that the need for water is constant in each and every one of us, coupled with the idea that there are more and more of us all the time, lastly joined to the idea that the water supply is a finite quantity on Earth, this leads me to believe that, as of right now, more troubling headlines will be on their way in 2017, and for the foreseeable future.

I think a few years back to the Arab Spring, as it came to be known, and wondered if such events might have been tied to water issues. Certainly not a leap, but as the guy who’s running this blog about water and Climate Change, I was interested, nonetheless, so I typed in “Arab Spring and water” on Google. Of course my suspicions were magnificently confirmed, and why would they not be. “Arab” and “arid” sort of go hand-in-hand, I suppose.

I read that the ongoing war in Syria was ignited over water. Sure it was, and who would say any different? When the country’s farmers suffer years of drought and poverty, then start streaming into the cities without the necessary skills for securing employment, we can safely say that the conflict had its roots, directly or otherwise, in water-related issues.

It’s always more complicated than just a one-solution-fits-all remedy, but given Syria’s geographical location, it certainly seems plausible that water scarcity could easily be thrown into the background noise, at least as an audible annoyance, of just about any conflict that comes to mind in recent history there, and around there.

I don’t recall all the countries involved in the uprisings, but I do recall Libya and Egypt readily, neither of which engender visions of clean water flowing out across fertile verdant valleys full of bountiful crops and lakes and aquifers spilling over with crystal clear plentitude. No, I think of dry, parched, barren deserts (I should mention that I’ve never been to either country, personally). Maybe just being thirsty and hot most of the time puts people in a perpetual state of ill-tempered concern (this is actually a documented psychological state, and I think we’re going to see more of it as secure water sources literally dry up).

Of all the reasons that are cited as official causes for such political uprisings, rare indeed is the case when you will read the bold-faced and straighforward “water scarcity” entry as an item on the list. Maybe it’s just not done. Maybe it has to be cloaked in phrases like “rising food prices…and then you, as the reader, have to add in stuff like…”as a result of diminished food crop yields…that came about as a result of ongoing legal disputes over irrigation rights and equitable water allocation…which was amplified and intensified because of the ongoing drought.”

There will continue to be theories espoused, and the further out we get from Tahrir Square and people setting themselves on fire, the more convoluted and overly academic things become, with the talking heads and think tanks droning on about the role that technology played in the whole matter broken down to the nth degree. If I want to know how many men between the ages of 18 and 32 used Facebook as their preferred social media platform for crowd sourcing, I don’t have to try very hard. Not that I would ever, ever…ever care about such things. It’s about as mindless as the U.S. economy believing that fortunes will be made or lost based on whether or not Yellen will raise interest rates 1/8 of a percent, or what Trump’s latest tweet entails for the economy (sigh).

I just hope the next time “the people want to bring down the regime,” they do so with a better end game in mind, since it doesn’t seem that things turned out well, and maybe not even better, for most of these countries. Rioting in the streets and railing against the machine is good, sure, but you still need a plan beyond gathering in the streets and throwing stuff at police. You need to have the leadership that will come somewhat hashed out already by the time you’re talking about replacing the leadership that is.

Now we seem to have what’s termed the “Islamist Winter.” ISIS is rolling into town somewhere, providing bottled water for everyone, but we all know the heavy price that comes with that courtesy.

In the meantime, there’s much more trouble already a’brewin’. Did you know that there are already some 40,000 major dams around the world? Think about that number and tell me you’re not surprised and impressed (in an ecologically sad sort of way). Building a big dam nowadays–and perhaps it’s always been the case–is about as expensive an infrastructure project as a country can undertake. Yet the building of new dams has begun in earnest, with no end in sight. Everyone is getting on the bandwagon, which means that the disputes will just keep piling up. Egypt is mad at Ethiopia, Palestine is fuming at Israel (nothing new there), all of Turkey’s neighbors are about to blow over their damn dams. And let’s not even get started with China, India, or Pakistan.

Unfortunately, where feudin’ over water is concerned, no country is going to escape unscathed, including the good ole USA (yes our nation’s once plentiful aquifers are in serious trouble, too). These matters are grave beyond description. If your local friendly Home Depot helper tells you that the low-flow commode he wants to sell you will take care of any water woes you may be experiencing, he may have missed the boat.

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Devil’s in the Water

The pictures should make us all quite queasy—the little children swimming in the flood waters immediately after a hurricane or similar water-related catastrophe. The adults in developing countries might not have been educated at any time as to the dangers involved in exposing their children to this liquid breeding ground for disease. Or, it could be that they are simply too distressed and distracted by a hundred other things demanding their attention after a disaster. They might catch the children out of the corner of a worried eye, maybe registering the natural sight of kids and water as something almost soothing midst the chaos and turmoil. Inexperience can be terribly costly.

Just days after Hurricane Matthew, insult is being added to the injury, with lives that made it through the blowing wind and churning water now being claimed by cholera. Casualties increase by the day as the standing putrid pools recede ever so slowly, leaving behind the once inundated towns and villages as remnants of the places already compromised before the deluge. The endemic disease now following reveals troubling possibilities.

The bacterium responsible for cholera lives and transmits itself through the bodily fluids of patients already infected. When a storm hits, sources where the bacteria might otherwise have been contained are compromised by invading waters, allowing cholera to infect new victims as they ingest either food or water that has been contaminated. Without treatment, the mortality rate is astonishingly high. A victim can exhibit first symptoms in the morning and be dead by late afternoon. However, with a very straightforward rehydration regimen (sometimes accompanied by antibiotics), most can recover in a matter of days.

When the bacterium has successfully invaded the human body, it releases a toxin that causes the lower intestine to secrete copious amounts of water, taking along vital electrolytes with it. The result is the characteristic fluid loss in patients, through diarrhea and vomiting. A rapid onset of severe dehydration is the predictable and tragic outcome.

Of course cholera isn’t the only frightening illness that comes in a water wrapper. There are many others, besides, most of them spreading via microbial agents, parasites, bacteria, viruses, and algae. They latch on to each new victim as a result of that person bathing in, washing their clothes in, drinking or cooking in the innocent-looking water that may actually be dripping with these unseen pathogens.

Most of those affected by such illnesses live in developing countries without adequate access to clean water. Poor sanitation and substandard hygiene are also major contributors. In the 21st century, it is astonishing to discover that millions are infected with the cholera bacillus every year, with well over 100,000 victims, many of them children, succumbing to its ravages as a result.

In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, cholera came visiting then, too, never fully going away until the present time. Even just shortly before Matthew struck, people in parts of Haiti were still dying of cholera. In a country among the poorest in the western world, this can’t possibly be unexpected. The rebuilding of Haiti six years on was still rife with political acrimony, corruption, and bureaucracy. Included in this mix of missteps and miscalculations are over 10,000 cholera-related deaths since 2010.

Cholera is a tough one to wipe out. Many parts of Africa, India, and other parts of the world have suffered, or are still suffering, outbreaks, as well. The common denominators seem easy enough to derive: poverty, lack of education, lack of sanitation, lack of water and infrastructure. With the basic necessities of life in short supply across the planet, it is unlikely that cholera will ever be eradicated entirely. The devil hides in the most unexpected places.

Cholera follows when chaos arrives. Cholera lives where poverty thrives. With Haitians living near an earthquake fault line and also directly in the path of many hurricanes, we can safely assume that cholera is not quite done with the island nation yet.

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