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Water in the OECD countries Edit

With nearly 2,000 cubic metres of H2O per person and per year, the United States leads the world in water consumption per capita (a large quantity of golf fields and car washing partly explain this massive consumption). In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the U.S. comes first for water consumption, then Canada with 1,600 cubic metres of water per person per year, which is about twice the amount of water used by the average person from France, three times as much as the average German, and almost eight times as much as the average Dane. Since 1980, overall water use in Canada has increased by 25.7%. This is five times higher than the overall OECD increase of 4.5%. In contrast, nine OECD nations were able to decrease their overall water use since 1980 (Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Poland, Finland and Denmark) [1] [2].

Ninety-five percent of the United States' fresh water is underground. One crucial source is a huge underground reservoir, the 800-mile (1,300 km) Ogallala aquifer which stretches from Texas to South Dakota and waters one fifth of U.S. irrigated land. Formed over millions of years, the Ogallala aquifer has since been cut off from its original natural sources. It is being depleted at a rate of 12 billion cubic metres a year, amounting to a total depletion to date of a volume equal to the annual flow of 18 Colorado Rivers. Some estimates say it will dry up in as little as 25 years. Many farmers in the Texas High Plains, which rely particularly on the underground source, are now turning away from irrigated agriculture as they become aware of the hazards of overpumping [3].

Water in Mexico Edit

In Mexico City, an estimated 40% of the city's water is lost through leaky pipes built at the turn of the century [4].

Water in the Middle East Edit

The Middle East region has only 1% of the world's available fresh water, which is shared between 5% of the world's population. Thus, in this region, water is an important strategic resource. By 2025, it is predicted that the countries of the Arabian peninsula will be using more than double the amount of water naturally available to them [5]. According to a report by the Arab League, two-thirds of Arab countries have less than 1,000 cubic meters water per person per year, which is considered the limit [6].

Jordan, for example, has little water and dams in other countries have reduced its available water over the years. The 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace stated that Israel would give 50 million cubic meters of water per year to Jordan, which it refused to do in 1999 before backtracking. The 1994 treaty stated that the two countries would cooperate in order to allow Jordan better access to water resources, notably through dams on the Yarmouk River [7]. Confronted by this lack of water, Jordan is preparing new techniques to use non-conventional water resources, such as second-hand use of irrigation water and desalinization techniques, which are very costly and are not yet used. A desalinization project will soon be started in Hisban, south of Amman. The Disi groundwater project, in the south of Jordan, will cost at least $250 million to bring out water. Along with the Unity Dam on the Yarmouk River, it is one of Jordan's largest strategic projects. Born in 1987, the "Unity Dam" would involve both Jordan and Syria. This "Unity Dam" still has not been implemented because of Israel's opposition, Jordan and Syrian conflictual relations and refusal of world investors. However, Jordan's reconciliation with Syria following the death of King Hussein represents the removal of one of the project's greatest obstacles. [8].

Both Israel and Jordan rely on the Jordan River, but Israel controls it, as well as 9/10 of the water resources in the region. Water is also an important issue in the conflict with the Palestinians - indeed, according to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon quoted by Abel Darwish in the BBC, it was one of the causes of the 1967 Six-Day War. In practise the access to water has been a casus belli for Israel. The Israeli army prohibits Palestinians from pumping water, and settlers use much more advanced pumping equipment. Palestinians complain of a lack of access to water in the region [9]. Israelis in the West Bank use four times as much water as their Palestinian neighbours [10]. According to the World Bank, 90% of the West Bank's water is used by Israelis [8]. Article 40 of the appendix B of the September 28, 1995 Oslo accords stated that "Israel recognizes Palestinians' rights on water in the West Bank".

The Golan Heights provide 770 million cubic meters of water per year to Israel, which represents a third of its annual consumption. The Golan's table water goes to the Sea of Galilee, which is Israel's largest reserve, which is afterward redistributed throughout the country by the National Water Carrier. The Golan, which Israel annexed, represents, for Israel, a strategic territory because of its water resources. [8]. However, the level on the Sea of Galilee has dropped over the years, sparking fears that Israel's main water reservoir will become salinated. On its northern border, Israel threatened military action in 2002 when Lebanon opened a new pumping station taking water from a river feeding the Jordan. To help ease the crisis, Israel has agreed to buy water from Turkey and is investigating building desalination plants [11].

On the other hand, Iraq and Syria watched with apprehension the construction of the Atatürk Dam in Turkey and a projected system of 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers [12]. According to the BBC, the list of 'water-scarce' countries in the region grew steadily from three in 1955 to eight in 1990 with another seven expected to be added within 20 years, including three Nile nations (the Nile is shared by nine countries).

Water in Asia Edit
In Asia, Vietnam and Cambodia are concerned by China's and Laos' attempts to control the flux of water. China is also preparing the Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River, which would become one of the world's largest dams, causing many social and environmental problems. It also has a project to divert water from the Yangtze to the dwindling Yellow River, which feeds China's most important farming region.

The Ganges is disputed between India and Bangladesh. The water reserves are being quickly depleted and polluted, while the glacier feeding the sacred Hindu river is retreating hundreds of feet each year because of global warming and deforestation in the Himalayas causing subsoil streams flowing into the Ganges river to dry up. Downstream, India controls the flow to Bangladesh with the Farakka Barrage, 10 km on the Indian side of the border. Until the late 1990s, India used the barrage to divert the river to Calcutta to stop the city's port drying up during the dry season. This denied Bangladeshi farmers water and silt, and left the Sundarban wetlands and mangrove forests at the river's delta seriously threatened. The two countries have now signed an agreement to share the water more equally. Water quality, however, remains a huge problem, with high levels of arsenic and untreated sewage in the river water [13].

Water in South America Edit

The Guaraní Aquifer, located between the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay, with a volume of about 40000 km³, is an important source of fresh, drinkable water, for all four countries.

Village cinema Edit

Walking on Water - An Excellent Development Film, December 07, 2006, about 7 mins.
Walking on Water - An Excellent FIlm

Walking on Water - An Excellent FIlm

Privatisation of water companies Edit

Privatisation of water companies has been contested on several occasions, due to bad quality of the water, increasing prices, etc. In Bolivia for example, the proposed privatization of water companies by the IMF were met by popular protests in Cochabamba in 2000, which ousted Bechtel, an American engineering firm based in San Francisco. SUEZ has started retreating from South America, due to similar protests (in Buenos Aires in Argentina, as well as in Santa Fe; in Córdoba, consumers took to the streets to protest water rate hikes of as much as 500 percent mandated by Suez). In South and Central America, Suez has water concessions in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Mexico. "Bolivian officials fault Suez for not connecting enough households to water lines as mandated by its contract and for charging as much as $455 a connection, or about three times the average monthly salary of an office clerk", according to the Mercury News [14]. South Africa also made moves to privatize water, provoking an outbreak of cholera killing 200 [15].

Regulating water distribution Edit

Drinking water is often collected at springs, extracted from artificial borings in the ground, or wells. Building more wells in adequate places is thus a possible way to produce more water assuming the aquifers can supply an adequate flow. Other water sources are rainwater and river or lake water. This surface water, however, must be purified for human consumption. This may involve removal of undissolved substances, dissolved substances and harmful microbes. Popular methods are filtering with sand which only removes undissolved material while chlorination and boiling kill harmful microbes. Distillation does all three functions. More advanced techniques exist, such as reverse osmosis. Desalination of abundant ocean or seawater is a more expensive solution used in coastal arid climates.

The distribution of drinking water is done through municipal water systems or as bottled water. Governments in many countries have programs to distribute water to the needy at no charge. Others argue that the market mechanism and free enterprise are best to manage this rare resource, and to finance the boring of wells or the construction of dams and reservoirs.

Reducing waste, that is using drinking water only for human consumption, is another option. In some cities, such as Hong Kong, sea water is extensively used for flushing toilets citywide in order to conserve fresh water resources. Polluting water may be the biggest single misuse of H2O; to the extent that a pollutant limits other uses of the water, it becomes a waste of the resource, regardless of benefits to the polluter. As other types of pollution, this does not enter standard accounting of market costs, being conceived as externalities for which the market can not account for. Thus other people pay the price of this water pollution, while the private firms' profits are not redistributed to the local population victim of this pollution. Pharmaceuticals consumed by humans often end up in the waterways and can have detrimental effects on aquatic life if they bioaccumulate and if they are not biodegradable.

Related topics Edit


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  1. Water consumption indicator in the OECD countries
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  6. "Major aspects of scarce water resources management with reference to the Arab countries", Arab League report published for the International Conference on water gestion and water politics in arid zones, in Amman, Jordan, December 1-3, 1999. Quoted by French journalist Christian Chesnot in Script error - French original version freely available here. Compare with the 1,600 cubic meters of water used per person and per year in Canada, for example
  7. See 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace, annex II, article II, first paragraph
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 See Christian Chesnot in Script error - French original version freely available here.
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