If we needed persuading that the consequences of the growing shortage of fresh water are important, this week's picture of the body of a poor little 3-year old boy on a beach in Greece should convince us. We need to help these people, and we also need new ideas to help the generations to come.
Drought has been a feature of natural life throughout history. It is not new. But it has taken on a new and more dangerous significance in recent years. Firstly, the human population of the planet is now above 7 billion. By far the largest use of fresh water has always been for agriculture and food production. We all know that it takes hundreds of cups of fresh water to produce one cup of coffee – the water used to grow the coffee beans, to grind and process the beans, to create the packaging and bring it to our shelves where we can boil one cup of water in a kettle and drink it. (140 litres per cup, in fact) If there are no more than 1 million coffee drinkers on the planet, this profligacy does not matter.
But global demand for food has increased in direct proportion to the population. The world now has to feed 7 billion people, for the first time ever. As recently as 1960, it was less than half. It is growing very, very quickly. The growth rate is estimated to be faster than 2 people per second. So far this year, global population has increased by more than 56 million people –counting the number of people who have been born and subtracting the number of people who have died. By the end of the year, the global population will have increased by more than the number of people currently living in the UK.
It’s tough on Mother Earth to find the water required to produce sufficient food for the increasing number of mouths to feed. But it’s even tougher when Mother Earth herself is changing. It is getting hotter, there is more desert where there was arable land, and there is less available fresh water. Desertification – the transformation of fertile land into desert – is a word rarely used by the politicians when explaining themselves and their policies, but it is the root cause of much of the conflict they all must deal with. The United Nations does take it seriously, fortunately, and measures its impact. It estimates current land loss at a rate that is 30-35 times greater than the historic rate. This translates into a loss of 12 million hectares per year, or 23 hectares per minute.
Just imagine, in the time it has taken you to read this, how many fertile fields have been lost, while how many more mouths to feed have been gained. The need is increasing at a challenging rate at precisely the period in our history that the capacity to provide for that need is decreasing at an equally alarming rate.
Are there any more important problems requiring solving in our global community today? Are there any problems that are more profoundly at the root of the awful tragedies we face? There are no easy solutions, but technologies that increase the volumes of fresh water available for our use must be among the most important, along with others that conserve fresh water by introducing system efficiencies.
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