The first philosopher in Western history found the archè – the origin and start of everything – in water, one of the four traditional natural elements. Before him, Homero had already sung of Ocean and Teti as the starters of the world generation.
After more than 2500 years, in 2015, World Leaders have committed to 17 Global Goals, the sixth of which is clean water and sanitation. Just five years before, the United Nations found it necessary to provide access to water between human rights. Meanwhile, none of the Millennium Goals failed as much as the one of halving by 2015, the number of people without access to water.
When we talk about a lack of access to water we are not just talking about the people who are suffering from thirst. Almost a billion people use undrinkable water and 2.5 billion do not have enough of it. In the last decades the world population has been growing steadily with the consumption of water increasing much more than expected in both developed and developing countries. In any case, unlike oil, there are not many people talking about the hydro-crisis.
In January 2015, world economic leaders defined the water crisis as an issue most likely to affect the socio-economical aspect of the whole world in the next ten years. In fact we have already seen an example where water – a human right which was not thought as necessary to be mentioned – has been used politically: Palestine.
According to the United Nations, a West Bank settler consumes an average of 300 litres of water per day while a Palestinian, just 70, 30 litres less than 100 which is the amount of water the UN said is necessary to be alive. In 1948, the newborn Israeli state tried to take control over the water sources, a strategy that continued with the decrees 92, thanks to which the Israeli government put the Palestinian water resources under its control, and 158, which imposed to Palestinians to ask for permission to the Israeli army to build hydro-infrastructures. These two ordinances are still in force and rule on the lives of 4,4 million Palestinians.
In the last few years, the situation is not improving in any way. The UN said that from 2020, the Gaza Strip will no longer be habitable while Israel definitely has enough water: even before the birth of the state the Zionist movement knew it needed to “make the desert bloom” and started investing in water resources.
In Sorek, Israel, there is the biggest desalination center in the world and, although this process is not surely environmental friendly – we do not know the exact consequences of putting high concentrations of salt in oceans – this produces enough water for the whole capital city in one hour. This is not the only way the state is dealing with the lack of water obviously prevailing in a mainly desertic area. Families which consume more water than necessary pay higher taxes and there are investments in the researching field. This is one of the reasons for which Israel is one of the first countries in the world in water management.
Still Israel is both a warning and a lesson for the world.
On one hand its sewage disposal makes the reuse of 86% of water in agriculture possible, against the US 1%. On the other hand it warns us on the necessity of a right use of the water resources. Politicians, who must deal with the issue now, need to recognize the human need of water as a basic right. This is also why the privatization of water is not the right choice, something that was showed by what happened in Bolivia.
Bolivia is the poorest country is South America, with consequences such as high rates of criminality as well as child labor and more than half of the population is living in very poor conditions.
Yet in 2000, under the pressure of the World Bank, the Bolivian government privatized water, increasing the water bills by anywhere up to 300%, with the private industry making the people pay even the rain water they use.
The people demonstrated against the decision by throwing stones and burning bills. The president answered with an army intervention which resulted in the killing of 5 people and many other injured. After four months the government revoked the privatization.
This happened in other countries in the world too, from Mali and Ghana to Sweden and the European commission which, in 2012, included water in the directive on concessions, but had then to revoke it after a petition was signed by over a million and half people.
This shows us how global this issue is. We are not only talking about underdeveloped countries, but also about California, Spain or even Brazil which has always claimed to have more than enough drinkable water.
The difference between the cracked fields in Andalusia, which are turning more and more similar to the close Moroccan summer landscape, and São Paulo, with hundreds of streams and channels is astonishing, yet both are facing water issues.
The reasons behind the Brazilian problem are different, the easiest excuse is climate change with very hot summers, but the truth is the problem is caused by humans and not for a high production of carbon dioxide. This huge presence of water that makes Brazilians proud, led them to start using water not only to drink- but also to produce energy inefficiently – with wastes thrown away in water by electric centrals and industries in general. The problem is just worsening for the apathy of politicians who blame climate change in general – without actually doing anything on that point either – while the highest parts of the city sometimes do not have water for days.
In developed countries, the way lack of water is being handled is not better. In California the last shafts are being digged if they have not already been digged and dried out. The reasons are many, the main one is that agriculture, which produces just 2% of the Californian GDP, exploits over 80% of the water resources, leading to the insufficient hydro-refueling in one of the US biggest cities: Los Angeles. This agriculture is not just local, it produces half of the vegetables consumed in the US and is also export-based.
This export of agricultural goods from places with a lack of water to places rich of water, like California exporting in Germany, is common all over the world and the solution is simple: correction of the issue by producing in the places rich of water with the right precautions or, as the private industry suggested, exporting water itself worldwide just like what happened with oil, which many think to be the solution that will be actually applied since privates will invest making the water market richer than the ones of precious metals and oil.
Every year 834 thousand people die due to the lack of access to water. The World Health Organization put a minimal yearly investment of 1.3 billion in water infrastructures, and the United Nations has just committed to a goal to be reached by 2030 made of 8 targets:
1) To achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
2) To achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
3) To improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
4) To substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity
5) To implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
6) To protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
7) To expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies
8) To support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.
Note: All the pictures of this article show artistic pieces made in São Paulo by artists and activists to compensate what they believe is a lack of media coverage on the issue.