Rainwater Harvesting & UV Treatment
Laos experiences both severe flooding and drought in a number of regions despite its tropical climate. Contaminated water supplies and water-borne diseases are also a major public health concern. The effects of water contaminated by Agent Orange (a chemical defoliant sprayed during the Vietnam War) continue to result in thousands of deformities in new born babies in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia every year.
Rainwater Harvesting Systems can be used to collect and store rainwater for use during dry seasons. Simple UV Sterilization Systems can reduce the need to boil water or treat it with chemicals. When water in clear plastic or glass bottles are left on a black surface in direct sunlight for approximately 6 hours it will be sterilized and fit for human consumption. Alternatively a UV bulb can be more effective. This is to be the second phase of the project to assist with the schools water supply. This system and the water it brings can be an invaluable asset to a developing community. Water is the most necessary component of life and the resource (in its drinkable form) is becoming increasingly scarce.
A Note on Water Security:
Water covers 70.9% of the Earth’s surface, however only 3% of this is fresh water and of that only 0.3% is surface water (CIA World Fact Book, Baroni, et al, 2007). So while the Earth’s water supply seems infinite, the reality is access to fresh, clean, drinkable water is diminishing under our current practices.
The earliest known dispute over water was the Lagash-Umma border dispute around 2,500BC after Urlama, the King of Lagash, diverted water from the “Gu’edena” (edge of paradise) region to boundary canals which dried up boundary ditches that resulted in the Umma being deprived of water (Hatami & Gleick, 1994). Since this time, every civilization from the Assyrians and the Romans to modern day Africa and the Middle East, water has been both a source of conflict and a weapon of war and this trend shows no sign of ceasing despite improving technology and international relations.
“Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict. As I travel around the world, people think the only place where there is potential conflict over water is the Middle East, but they are completely wrong. We have the problem all over the world.”
In 1853 a water company named Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE) was created by an Imperial decree of Napoleon III to supply water to the people of Lyon (veoliawater.com). Since then the concept of water privatization has gained momentum. In the United States water privatization is credited with supplying the country with clean drinking water and eliminating water-borne diseases. However what is often overlooked is the fact that private water systems began to be municipalized in the 19th century and public control was ensured through revenue from taxes. It was recognized that this service, like the emergency services, are essential for public well-being and that the control and profit of this resource by private corporations was not justifiable. Currently the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank are the leading proponents of water privatization and loan billions of dollars for water projects in the developing world. These projects, that involve foreign multinationals selling a countries water back to them, have a terrible track record of mismanagement and abuse yet reap enormous profits at the expense of public well-being (stopcorporateabuse.org).
“The World Bank is the largest obstacle to providing water services that could lift millions out of poverty.
- Kelle Louaillier, Executive Director of stopcorporateabuse.org
In order for this natural resource to be managed effectively and considered sustainable, it’s social, environmental and economic impacts should be addressed simultaneously.
Water is now a US$400 Billion industry, the third largest industry after energy and oil (blueplanetnetwork.org). This means policies surrounding water and its supply have massive economic impacts for both governments and industry but also the ordinary citizen. Water privatization is a controversial issue and has led to gross injustices, especially in the developing world. Proponents of this concept point to the increasing clean water supply being delivered to the population but neglect the fact that people who are already living in absolute poverty are being forced to pay an unjustifiable amounts of money for the most basic of necessities. The concept also fails to recognise that privatization gives the priority of supply to those who can afford it as opposed to those who need it, meaning that industry is likely to avail of water over the needs of agriculture or the public. Competition for this resource is intensifying.
Approximately 70% of freshwater is consumed by agriculture and considering a thousand tonnes of water used in industry can produce $14,000 of output while this amount of water used in agriculture can only produce about $400 worth of crop yield, (70 times less) the incentive to supply industry with the available water is greater (blueplanetnetwork.org). However the value of producing food as a necessity to human survival is not factored into the equation in this privatized, profit-orientated monetary system. This is completely unsustainable and contrary to the regard for human life when food production is secondary to industrial expansion. The current methods of measuring our economic success, such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product), also do not take into account the negative effects of transactions on the social or biophysical environment.
“The UN estimates it would cost an additional $30 billion to provide access to safe water to the entire planet. That’s a third of what the world spends in a year on bottled water.”
- CBS News, FLOW – Retrieved from blueplanetnetwork.org
It is also necessary to consider the adverse economic effects of not providing safe water to the public. More than 40 million hours a year in Africa are lost in the effort to gather water and 50% of the patients in hospital beds today are suffering from water related illness (israelfinancialexpert.com). This is a massive cost to the health care system.
The world population is expected to increase by another 40 to 50% over the next fifty years (worldwatercouncil.org). This, coupled with increasing industrialization and urbanization, will result in an increasing demand for water and will have serious consequences for society on both the micro and macro level. It is estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population or 5.3 billion people will suffer from water shortages by 2025 (blueplanetnetwork.org). This indicates that sustainability is not occurring and future generations will struggle. Given that this is a basic necessity for survival, logic dictates that this will invariably lead to conflict as competition for the resource increases.
On the micro level human health is at risk. 50 percent of people on earth lack adequate sanitation meaning half of the world’s population fail to receive the level of water services available to the citizens of ancient Rome (africancleanwater.com). Water related diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis and malaria account for 20% of global disease burden yet they receive less than 1% of the total public and private funds devoted to health research (blueplanetnetwork.org).
On the macro level the likelihood of conflict over water resources will increase. According to Lonergan & Brooks (1994), there are endless examples of water competition-conflict occurring right now from African cattle herders and farmers competing over shrinking water holes to the use of water as a weapon of war in the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and possibly in the future between India and Pakistan.
Human displacement is another factor to take into consideration, as water is also used as a means of generating electricity through hydroelectric dams which requires the flooding of areas up river from the dam. It is estimated that 40-80 million people worldwide have physically been displaced as a direct result of dam construction (internationalrivers.org).
Polluted water is that which is impaired by anthropogenic contaminants. These contaminants can come from industrial waste, agricultural run-off and human waste. Water pollution is contributing not only to adverse health conditions but also the breakdown of ecosystems that are critical to human survival. Over 20% of freshwater fish species are on the brink of extinction due to contaminated water and over half of the world’s major rivers are seriously depleted or polluted (unep.org).
When contaminants are not biodegradable such as certain heavy metals and pesticides like mercury and DDT, they can enter the food chain and a process known as bio-magnification will begin. This is where the pollutant moves up the food chain and as it is not being broken down, it will magnify the concentration of the pollutant, sometimes in excess of 10 million times. This can then be consumed by people and other top predators’ severely affecting their health (Suedel, et al, 1994). As seen in the case of Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War this will affect many generations to come.
The dumping of pollutants into the world’s water systems is the primary cause of ecological destruction and contributes to the depletion of fish stocks, therefore world food security is also at risk. Up until 1972 the United States disposed of chemical weapons by dumping them in the ocean. During Operation CHASE 32,000 tons of nerve and mustard agents was dumped off the coast of 11 states, when the steel containers eventually corrode the nerve agents escape they will kill every organism they come into contact with. It may take a period over 6 weeks before they begin to break down. Due to poor records the government only knows the estimated location of around half of these sites (Wagner, 2004).
International Example – Cochabamba
The Bolivian city of Cochabamba is a perfect example of the economic and social consequences of the mismanagement of water security. Cochabamba was forced to privatize its water supply by the World Bank in 1999 and the contract was awarded to the American corporation Bechtel under the consortium name Aguas del Tunari. Soon water prices for the already impoverished locals’ sky-rocketed by up to 50%, meaning people had to divert their income away from other necessities such education for their children and healthcare in order to provide drinking water for their families. Residents of Cochabamba were even prohibited from collecting rainwater. Rioting inevitably ensued and through pressure from Bechtel the Bolivian security forces were instructed to use their guns on their own people during demonstrations in 2000, killing at least 6 people and injuring over 170 more. Due to mounting public pressure by the Bolivian people the government nullified the contract and restored the water supply to the people by encouraging public disobedience on the matter. Bechtel filed suit in 2001 for $25million in damages (Wutich, 2006).
This case highlights the flaws associated with privatizing a basic public necessity such as water by organizations whose primary motivation is to make a profit regardless of the social and environmental concerns involved.
The main findings of this paper show that access to water has been a source of conflict throughout history and will likely cause further disputes in the future as the current management practices remain unsustainable. The supply of clean, drinkable water is diminishing while the demand is increasing and water–related diseases, which are major public health concern, have negative economic as well as social implications. Water privatization is a controversial issue as it can help supply the public with drinking water but historically it has had negative social consequences as private corporations seek to generate a profit by commodifying a basic necessity. If water is privatized those who can afford it will get the priority of supply over those who need it. Water contaminated by pollutants from industry, agriculture and human waste also has disastrous effects on ecology and biodiversity as well as destabilizing world water and food security. All of these problems can easily be solved on a global scale through appropriate management, investment and development of new technologies.
Water is an essential ingredient for life. Unlike oil for example, water is a transient substance which in a state of perpetual motion and transformation; evaporating, condensing and freezing. Unlike oil, water also replenishes itself after it is used. There is still the same amount of water on the planet now as there ever was however supply is diminishing due to rising population, industrialization, contamination and mismanagement. Attempts are now being made to treat water like any other commodity that can be bought or sold on the open market. This however begs the question of who owns a transient resource like water and who has the right to sell and profit from it? Proponents of the privatization of water speak of the benefits to developing nations by having increased access. However it stands to reason that when there is a profit motive, supply has less to do with altruism and social development and more to do with revenue generation and exploitation.
Sustainability and abundance are enemies of profit and contaminating water supplies can actually produces the incentive to profit from its increasing scarcity. When considering the future of global water security some basic questions should be asked. Who are the people that have taken it upon themselves to control our water? Who has the right to stake a claim to something as transient as water? Why should people have to pay for a basic necessity?
Fortunately we have the ability to supply every person on earth with clean, drinkable water and we also have the ability to treat contaminants or remove them from our water supply if we so wish. It does not require the World Bank to spend a billion dollars on a project in one place; it can be achieved by spending a few thousand dollars in millions of places. Technologies exist to purify water without aggressive treatment using hazardous chemicals, such as reverse osmosis and UV treatment. Water can be retrieved it more effectively from the ground and the sky with drilling technology and rain water harvesting systems. Old water harvesting techniques are being also being revived and reinvented.
The basic core and root cause of the majority of economic, social and environmental crisis’s we face is the reluctance to change from our outdated methods of social operation. The current monetary system, religious and political institutions we have are collapsing because they are no longer relevant. We need to grow up as a species. Monetary systems came about in times where scarcity was a reality. We now have the technology and resources to provide food, water, healthcare, education, shelter and clean energy to every human being on the planet; however we are hindered by the costs involved.
Despotic figures like Henry Kissinger have said “Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.”. An appropriate addendum to that would be “who controls water controls life”.