Water: A Real Problem Getting Worse

This is from Guardian.co.uk, from just two months ago. Presumably it’s fact, not opinion:

When the 1948 universal declaration on human rights was written, no one could foresee a day when water would be a contested area. But in 2010, it is not an exaggeration to say that the lack of access to clean water is one of the greatest human rights violation in the world. Nearly 2 billion people live in water-stressed areas of the world and 3 billion have no running water within a kilometre of their homes. Every eight seconds a child dies of a waterborne disease, in every case preventable if their parents had money to pay for water. And it is getting worse as the world runs out of clean water. A new World Bank reports says that by 2030, global demand for water will exceed supply by more than 40%, a shocking prediction that foretells of terrible suffering.

(The rest of this post is a repost from 2007. I don’t mean to compare this in any way to the suffering so much of the world goes through for water. But it’s about water, and loss of water, and it’s something I know and experience. So I’m reposting.)

I have to admit that it’s a bit disheartening to think that we were talking about environmental issues back in 1964 when I was a sophomore in high school in suburban California. So much of what Al Gore has finally convinced a lot of people is true was already there. My family joined the Sierra Club in 1964, in part because of an annoying 15-year-old (me) who wouldn’t shut up.

I’m happy to see that the latest blog action day is focusing on water. Later is better than never.

So much has changed for the worse in so little time. Here’s one simple example. My wife and I used to take our kids, now grown, into the high Sierra mountains in California every summer. Backpacking88We rented a burro at the Tuolumne Meadows stables in Yosemite, and went up into the mountains where we would be two or three days hike from the nearest road. You see the stream in the background in the picture here? We drank out of it, used it to cook our food, without any worries about salmonella or parasites or anything. That picture was taken in 1988. We didn’t carry bottled water, we didn’t carry iodine pills, we didn’t boil the water, it was clean runoff from Sierra snowmelt. It tasted so good. It was deliciously cold, clear, and completely clean.

In fact, we used to carry aluminum Sierra Club cups on our belts. Instead of lugging water, the cup would bang Sierra_club_cuppleasantly along with the beat of our walking pace, keeping time to the hike, there in an instant. Streams came along at perfectly reasonable intervals, every half hour or so.

I just Googled the Sierra Club cup. They’re producing them again, but as a tribute to the past. They had been discontinued for at least 10 years. After all, what good is an aluminum cup for dipping in streams? Just get a plastic water bottle with a section top.

So that’s just a detail, I know, but details are the only way I can get a handle on this. Those days are gone now. It hasn’t been that long. Our grown-up children, the oldest of them now in their 30s, remember that well. Our younger children, now in their 20s, have no such memory. The idea of drinking water straight out of a stream sounds like some scratchy old black-and-white storyteller from the distant past.

When my kids are the age I am now, what else will they be telling their kids about? I guess polar bears and penguins are already doomed. “They used to live in the wild, dear, not just in zoos.” Will they be telling them that there were streams running down the mountainsides, fed by melting snow? Yosemite Falls? The San Francisco Bay?


  • Mir says:

    After actually reading the article, the author, Juliette Jowit, does qualify the 40% statement by saying “unless substantial changes are made to conserve water and build new supplies.”

    Obviously there will have to be more suppliers. Not sure there will be a need for conservation of drinking water yet.

  • Mir says:

    Yes, though in my mid 20s, I too remember those days. I had a plastic collapsible cup that I would fill with stream water and drink.

    Maybe it’s because I’m older or maybe because of how much dirtier everything is nowadays from just the 80s, but there is no way I would drink non-bottled/packaged water without purifying or boiling it first anymore.

    Gotta say I can’t take the Guardian quote about global demand for water exceeding supply by more than 40% seriously.

    As disheartening as it is, the children dying from waterborne disease are from impoverished countries. Without being a water expert, I have to guess that purifying/cleaning water is not free. Therefore, companies that do this cannot just give this water away, at least not enough of it to meet the needs of those who cannot afford clean water.

    The real problem is the lack of running water in these countries, but I digress.

    My point is, as long as you have the means to pay, you don’t have to worry about not having drinking water. It’s basic economics.

    Maybe I’m being naive. Either way, it seems like it’s a good time to go into the water purifying business.

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