Sunday, August 19, 2007

Water Crisis

On Saturday, August 4th, NASA successfully launched the unmanned Phoenix Mars Lander. Its primary mission is to search the red planet's arctic region in search of water, proof that the now dead surface might have once supported life.

In another news story, it was recently reported that the water levels in Lake Superior have dropped an astounding 30 centimeters over the past year. Scientists believe that a dramatic rise in lake temperatures, which have averaged 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1979, is responsible for increasing the rate of evaporation from Superior’s once icy waters. The apparent culprit: climate change.

It's important to note that Lake Superior is the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes, which are collectively the largest single source of fresh water in the world. At present, this translates into 20 percent of our global supply.

These two seemingly unrelated water stories should scare the indifference out of anyone who doesn't think we have anything to worry about. Water is an essential element of life. A healthy human can live for a month without food, but will die in less than a week without water. We live by the grace of water. Only the air that we breathe is more critical to our survival.

In recent years there has been much concern about our dwindling oil reserves. In recent decades, wars in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan have been about oil. But despite the horror of these conflicts, they will be nothing compared to the wars we will see in this century over water. The United Nations estimates that by 2025 as much as two-thirds of the world's population will be living in conditions of serious water shortage. One third will be living in conditions of absolute water scarcity. It has been predicted that the wars of the 21st century will be about water.

Many parts of the planet are already engaged in a battle for existence. At present, 1.1 billion people lack adequate access to clean drinking water. In India, some households spend as much as 25 percent of their income on water. In some parts of Mexico, water is so scarce that children drink imported Coke and Pepsi instead of water. More than five million people, most of them children, die every year from illnesses caused by drinking poor quality water.

Half of the more than six billion plus souls who dwell here - an estimated 3 billion people - don't have enough water for basic sanitation - washing, bathing, and flushing waste.

Despite this, our global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth and Canadians are among the heaviest users. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada ranks a dismal 28th among the 29 nations in terms of per capita water consumption. The biggest users are our American cousins to the south.
The OECD reports that Canadians use 1,600 cubic meters of water per person per year, which is 65 percent above the OECD average, or twice the amount used by the French, and four times the amount used by the Swedes.

The good news is that conserving water can also help to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the primary cause of climate change, a major factor in dwindling water reserves. The little known reason is that almost two-thirds of the energy consumed by municipalities is used to pump water.

As individuals we can begin by installing low-flow showerheads and toilets, taking shorter showers, only watering our lawns once a week, and replacing appliances with water and energy efficient models as needed. As global citizens, we can contribute to programs that bring water to areas of this parched Earth where doing something as common as taking a shower is as alien as the surface of Mars.


Water is a gift worth sharing. Donate to

The United Nations has proclaimed 2005 to 2015 the International Decade for Action: Water for Life. Check out

For more on Canada’s environmental performance, read Canada vs. The OECD: An Environmental Comparison, which can be found at

Maude Barlow’s report, Blue Gold: The global water crisis and the commodification of the world's water supply, should be required reading for everyone. It is available from Council of Canadians.

Letter Written in 2070 is a dramatic slide presentation of what a future world would be without water. It can be found at is an excellent global water conservation portal and search engine.

NASA’s has a wonderful interactive website filled with information for kids, adults and space fans of all ages.


Anonymous Jeannine Fallon said...

As always, this column is thought-provoking and moving, Suzanne. Thanks so much for raising our awareness.

August 27, 2007 12:41 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I love your short and punchy, thought-provoking podcasts. Most of my language students love them too.

They create a fantastic stimulus for some blinding conversations and you are not always "preaching to the converted" so that's even better.

I've been visiting your site for nearly two years now. I think it's about time I said thanks for doing what you do.

PS sorry to hear about your robbery.

September 05, 2007 3:28 PM  

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