From World Water Week

Fixing Leaks Will Avert World Water Woes

SWEDEN: August 22, 2006

STOCKHOLM - Fixing leaky pipes in conurbations from Mexico City to New Delhi is a better way to avert water shortages as the world population grows than costly schemes such as dams, a leading expert said on Monday. "There is no shortage of water in the world, but there is a crisis of management of water supplies," Asit Bitwas, head of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico City, told Reuters during a meeting of 1,000 experts on water in Stockholm. "There is enough water, even in the Middle East, if we manage our water properly," Bitwas said, disputing the findings of an new international report that said one in three of the world's people lived in areas where water was in short supply.

He said many developing nations often wrongly put priority on expensive schemes to build dams or divert rivers in a bid to increase supplies. He said that the key was in simpler measures like fixing leaks. "In nearly all the megacities nearly 40 to 60 percent (of water) never reaches the consumer" because of leaks and poor maintenance, he said. "It is cheaper to fix your leaks, improve your maintenance systems which you can do in a couple of years rather than build a dam 200 kilometres away," he said. India, Mexico, China and Brazil were all among countries that could benefit. Bitwas, a Canadian citizen born in India, was to receive the conference's annual US$150,000 prize for his research. He said that many experts wrongly claimed that crises or even wars over water were looming. "It's baloney," he said.

Earlier, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) issued a report saying that a third of the world's population was living in regions with water shortages -- mainly in Africa and Asia. It said that demand for irrigation, which uses three quarters of all water used by humans, would rise because of factors including more demand to produce crops, for food and for biofuels, from a rising population. "The positive message is that we can increase the productivity of water," said Frank Risjerberman, head of the IWMI told Reuters. "We will simply have to make do with less."

Bitwas said that bad planning of water use was at the heart of suffering caused by famines, which often happened because of erosion caused by poor management. Bitwas said that China was likely by 2050 to have surged to become the world's largest economy trailed by the United States, India, Japan and Brazil. "These new economic giants of the future will need a lot of water," he said. Still, he said any problems were likely to be linked to poor water quality rather than water availability. "If there is going to be a crisis the problem will be because of continuing deterioration of water quality," he said.

Story by Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

I wholehearedly agree that fixing leaks and infrastructure will solve a great deal of the problem of water scarcity. Over 70% of water that is wasted is done so through leaks, irrigation, and run off (which also greatly contributes to ground water pollution and pollution of lakes and rivers.) However, in developing countries many villages not only do not have infrastructure, they do not have the funds necessary to build it. That's what organizations such as Water Partners International are doing. And these are also areas that are vulnerable to privatization of water resources, as Coca Cola has proven in India. Bolivia's recent fight against corporatization is well known as well as just one example of corporate influence interfering with our human right to access to potable water.

Mr. Bitwas also left out much regarding the effects of climate change on areas of this world where rivers are literally drying up due to excessive heat, with reservoirs from Spain to the U.S. at less than half of capacity. Also the fact that populations are expected to double in the world in the next twenty years with a finite supply of freshwater resources which will put a strain on infrastructure whether the pipes leak or not.

Therefore, while it is all well and good and right to say we have what we need to solve this crisis, to simply dismiss what is going on regarding corporate influence commoditizing this resource that takes it away from people who need it, governmental interference that takes precedence over the rights of people who live on the land, and other mitigating factors such as overpopulation is simply looking at this with blinders on.

He also says wars over water are baloney... well, he needs to then read the news over the last two decades and also read Dr. Vandani Shiva's book, Water Wars. She knows of what she speaks and as recently as this month there was a war in Sri Lanka over diversion of water. There are many areas of this world as well where war could break out due to excessive damming that diverts water, floods, ruins the environment, and displaces people from their traditional homelands.

It isn't just as easy as a quick fix by putting putty on a leaking pipe. However, it is good to see this issue being given the attention it deserves. Let's just hope those at this conference don't also fall prey to the corporate influences that would like people to believe it is only a leaky pipe causing this crisis. A little more research is definitely in order as there are many facets to this problem, chief among them the lack of moral will to share this resource amicably and declare it a human right, and also gross government incompetence on this issue globally, including right here in the United States.

This issue is too important to simply be dismissed as just a leaky pipe. People and animals are dying because of it. And I don't know about Mr. Bitmas, but I think that having 90% of your rivers severely polluted as China does presents a water scarcity problem as well. Water scarcity doesn't only result from lack of potable water, it comes from polluting our resources beyond the capacity for them to be potable and sustainable for life.

There is much that needs to be done globally regarding this crisis, especially in areas such as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East which are experiencing water scarcity due to climate change, and also privatization of resources. Hopefully, this will be discussed as well rather than dismissing it as just a leaky pipe. Again, were it that simple in this world where greed, incompetence, amorality, and apathy seem to rule the hearts and minds of men.