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The Other Blue Revolution we Should Be Having

by Asinus Asinum Fricat Thu May 8th, 2008 at 05:45:07 AM EST

The world needs to start another revolution, IMO, to preserve, conserve and manage freshwater supplies in the face of huge growing demands from population growth, irrigated agriculture, unregulated industries (in most parts of the world) and sheer wastage: a Blue Revolution. Although this concept is not new, it should be given serious thought.

Just as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture in the 1960s, a Blue Revolution ought to galvanize this earth into action, and everyone, from those in government to the multinationals and from the self-employed to the workforce and those at home should play a role as there is no more water on earth now than there was 2,000 years ago, when the population was less than 3% of its current size. Glib? It's worse than that as per-capita water consumption is rising twice as fast as the world's population.  

Diary rescue by Migeru

The FAO said that two-thirds of the world's population could be threatened by water shortages by 2025. Today 1.2 billion people live in areas with insufficient water and an additional 0.5 billion could soon face shortages. Climate change and pollution are making it difficult for southern countries to provide themselves with food. Africa has 9% of the planet's water resources, but uses only 3.8%. Water resources on the African continent are not well-distributed. Lake Victoria, Africa's largest freshwater reserve, fell two meters below normal in 2005.

In much of the world polluted water, improper waste disposal (in developing countries, 90-95% of sewage and 70% of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into surface waters where they pollute the usable water supply) and poor water management cause serious public health problems. Such water-related diseases as malaria, cholera, typhoid, and schistosomiasis harm or kill millions of people every year. Overuse and pollution of water supplies also are taking a heavy toll on the natural environment and pose increasing risks for many species of life. Scared yet? China, India, Saudi Arabia, North Africa, and the US over-pump and deplete aquifers at 160 billion cubic meters annually. Since it takes 1,000 tons of water to produce 1 ton of grain, this 160-billion-ton water deficit is equal to 160 million tons of grain, or 50% of the US grain harvest. 480 million of the world's 6 billion people are being fed with grain produced with unsustainable use of water. 70% of the water consumed worldwide is used for irrigation, 20% by industry, and 10% for residential purposes. Migration to cities means that residential use of water triples due to indoor plumbing. Of the world's water supply, 97.5% is salt water. Most of the remaining 2.5%, fresh water, is in glaciers and ice caps, unavailable for use by living things. 0.77% is in lakes, rivers, swamps, and aquifers, or in the atmosphere, or in soils and plant tissues. 20% of what is left is in remote areas and virtually all of the rest - monsoons, storms and floods - comes at the wrong time and place.  


    * By 2025, water scarcity will cause annual global losses of 350 million metric tons of food production - slightly more than the entire current US grain crop.
    * Consumption of water for all non-irrigation uses will rise by 62%.
    * Household water use will increase by 71%, of which more than 90% will be in developing countries.
    * By 2025 industrial water demand in the developing world will exceed the demand in developed countries.
    * Water scarcity will cause substantial shifts in where the world's food is grown. Developing countries will dramatically increase their reliance on food imports. In sub-Saharan Africa, grain imports will more than triple. Poor countries, unable to finance imports, will experience increased hunger and malnutrition.

Water is one of the two key raw materials in photosynthesis, the other being carbon dioxide. When leaves open to take in CO2, huge amounts of water evaporates, in most climates of the order of 1500 m3/ ton biomass produced, but in poverty stricken dry climate countries often twice this amount due to large losses and low water productivity. To produce a balanced diet of 3000 kcal/ person/ day (20% animal protein) involves a consumptive water use of 1300 m3/ person/ day. This water is being picked up by the roots from the so-called green water in the soil consisting of infiltrated rainfall. Water may be added to the soil by irrigation with water withdrawn from the blue water available in rivers and aquifers. This water requirement is 70 times larger than the amount often assumed as the basic need for household supply. Even though more than 2.4 billion people got access to safe drinking water for the first time during the past 20 years, an estimated 1.7 billion people still lack it. Perhaps 2.6 billion people in the world lack basic sanitation. Two million tons of human waste is released into rivers and streams around the world annually. About 1.8 million people, mostly young children, die from diarrhea and related diseases every year. Many of those deaths could be prevented with clean water and sanitation.

A recent reading of freshwater supplies:

More than half the world's 500 mightiest rivers have been seriously depleted. Some have been reduced to a trickle in what the UN warned is a "disaster in the making".
All of the 20 longer rivers of the world are being disrupted by big dams.
One-fifth of all freshwater fish species in the world either face extinction or are already extinct.
The Nile River and Pakistan's Indus River are greatly reduced by the time they reach the sea.
 The Colorado River and China's Yellow River, now rarely reach the ocean at all.
The Jordan and the Rio Grande on the US-Mexico border, are dry for much of their length.
25% of the Britain's 160 chalk rivers and steams - such as the Kennet River in Wiltshire, the Darent River in Kent, and the Wylye River in Wiltshire - are running out of water because too much is being abstracted for homes, industry and agriculture.
Some 45,000 big dams now block the world's rivers, trapping 15% of all the water that used to flow from the land to the sea.
Reservoirs now cover almost 1% of land surface

Does this make you queasy? Well, if we do nothing, and we, collectively, seem to be doing not much, water does not grow on trees, and in the not too distant future we'll be forced to fight for it.

A Blue Revolution NOW is a far better alternative.                    

Excellent post. Hard to think of anything more important given we all need water every day. But I think we also need to put some resources into further improving desalination technology. It's not really all that complex or that expensive, and there's plenty of salt water out there.
by mikep on Sat Apr 26th, 2008 at 03:27:33 PM EST
Good diary, but whilst golf rules the moneyed world I hardly imagine anything will change.

Wastage is designed into 20th century economic ideology and there's too much vested interest in the status quo for that to change soon.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 12:27:07 PM EST
Since the 1960's "Green Revolution" was an industrial one introduced from above (and therefore no revolution at all), the term refers to the introduction of pesticides and fertilizers to illiterate farmers in the developing countries. It's a big business, but I don't think anyone of the customers can actually read the warning labels on the stuff or see behind the salesman's facade who's dumping chemicals on them that have long been banned in developed countries.

A "blue" revolution would therefore be the "privatization" of yet another resource, accompanied by generous credits to pay for the formerly free good.

And don't forget some heroic measure of the type that always gets ignorant Westerners enamoured. Let's see, a home device to 'store' and 'clean' the privatized water. It should have a little beancounter computer to facilitate billing and even run on solar energy.

That would be soooo nice. Imagine the billions of $$$ you can make with that! Imagine the millions of unwashed masses that can be subjugated under corporate control with that!

by antonymous on Thu May 8th, 2008 at 06:53:51 AM EST
If people would devote as much time to reflections on environment as to their pop idols (or say, religious customs), there would be no big global problems at all.
by das monde on Fri May 9th, 2008 at 02:21:14 AM EST
This is a good writeup about the problems, but it is unclear to me what kind of "blue revolution" solutions you are proposing.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 6th, 2008 at 05:55:01 PM EST

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