Monday, April 15, 2019

Parched Parched Parched

Can you tell the difference between Wet, Wet, Wet and Wet Wet Wet? I imagine that the former presupposes that by ducking and weaving, you could avoid the worst of an onrushing shower if you ran into the nearest shelter. On the other hand, Wet Wet Wet suggests that you are already soaked to the skin in a blinding rainstorm.

As a graduate student, it was perhaps curious that my Bob Dylan initiation coincided with my first encounter with Wet Wet Wet, a 1980s Scottish rock band. Their contrasting musical styles echoed the personalities of the dour Dylan and the latter’s gregarious lead vocalist, Marti Pellow, who sported an improbably coiffed pompadour.

Discordantly, there is no discernible difference between Parched, Parched, Parched and Parched Parched Parched, since both convey unforgiving desolation, distress and barrenness. Parched means bone dry which, at myriad levels, paints a most terrifying picture of human deprivation.

The world has come a lot way since great rivers such as the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Tiber, Yangtze, and Indus catalysed agriculture and early human civilisations. In contrast, arid regions have struggled throughout history and many continue to be blighted by water shortages. Inarguably, the relative peace, prosperity and stability of many parts of the world have been shaped by water politics and internecine land disputes.

The correlation between water and the ecology of life on Earth could hardly be overstated. By and large, we all live in unconscious awe of water, without which life as we know it could not exist. At the most basic level, access to clean water is supposed to be a universal human right, but is it?

With a bang, the 20th century witnessed a rapid increase in population growth, industrialisation and technological advances, as well as massive improvements in sanitation, healthcare, and access to safe drinking water. The emergence of a truly global middle class, now including hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indians, and large swathes of the southern hemisphere, ignited a new industrial revolution which, in turn, sparked an unprecedented scramble for strategic resources, including water. Given that no one could reasonably argue against human progress, the unintended consequences of rampant pollution, encroaching desertification, severe drought, and the damaging effects of climate change inevitably rose to the top of the global agenda.

Meanwhile, poor governance, mismanagement and corruption have hampered the availability and supply of healthy water to over one billion people worldwide, while global supply of fresh water is projected to decrease by as much as 30% in the coming decades.

So, as the world’s population rises inexorably to 9-odd billion by mid-century, how worried should we be about water scarcity, as unrelenting demand pressure continues to mount on this most strategic natural resource? Can we moderate our water consumption by generating more from less through recycling, optimal pricing and water efficiency regulations? Furthermore, are there more focused strategies that can help protect the hydrosphere, in order to conserve our groundwater, lakes, streams, rivers and oceans?

To mitigate an impending crisis despite baffling scepticism in high places, I highly recommend the practical interventions proposed in the GlobeScan and SustainAbility poll summary of more than 1,200 leading international experts from 80 countries.


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