Sunday, November 02, 2008
Drought land 'will be abandoned'
Parts of the world may have to be abandoned because severe water shortages will leave them uninhabitable, the United Nations environment chief has warned.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said water shortages caused by over-use of rivers and aquifers were already leading to serious problems, even in rich nations. With climate change expected to reduce rainfall in some places and cause droughts in others, some regions could become 'economic deserts', unviable for people or agriculture, he said.
Steiner argued that only urgent action to combat global warming and poverty could prevent the creation of thousands of 'environmental refugees'. Previous UN agreements to reduce global warming emissions and the Millennium Development Goals on poverty had not been met. His warning echoes those of other environment leaders, who have said that water shortages could be the greatest threat posed by climate change.
'In many ways [water] is the most dramatic expression of mismanagement of natural or nature-based assets,' Steiner said. 'The day a person or a community is bereft of water is the day that your chance of even the most basic life or livelihood is gone and economic activity seeps away.
'Unchecked climate change will mean that some parts of the world will simply not have enough water to sustain settlements both small and large, because agriculture becomes untenable and industries relying on water can no longer compete or function effectively. This will trigger structural changes in economies right through to the displacement of people as environmental refugees.'
Steiner said it was not possible to identify specific places at risk, but said vulnerable areas were those which were already considered to be 'water scarce' because of dry weather and a lack of infrastructure to store and transport water. Last week a study of the water footprints of 200 nations led by conservation group WWF warned that 50 countries were already experiencing 'moderate to severe water stress on a year-round basis'.
This week experts from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification meeting in Turkey will warn that high food prices and endemic droughts are jeopardising the lives of hundreds of millions of people, particularly in Africa.
Some of the most dramatic examples of water shortages this year include conflict-stricken Sudan, the dramatic drying of Lake Faguibine in Mali on which 200,000 mostly nomadic people depend, fatal clashes over drying boreholes in northern Kenya, and economic and social crisis on the sparsely populated border between Bolivia and Argentina, according to Unep. Oxfam has estimated that 25 million people have been affected by the most recent drought in Ethiopia.
Rich nations are not immune. California has declared a state of emergency over water shortages, Australia has committed billions of dollars to cope with drought, and governments in Europe have been forced to ship in water to stop communities running dry.
'A plant, never mind a human being, simply cannot live without water,' said Steiner. 'It's not a matter of how we can live for three years without some water; these are not the kind of things we can do for a while and recover.
I weep for humanity and the Earth. And I don't mean that figuratively. For those of us who know the inmportance of the connection to this Earth and especially to the water that is the lifeblood of this planet, reading about these events unfolding and knowing that the human spirit can reverse it if it wants to but chooses not to out of some sort of denial, apathy, or other emotion over reason that does not place water as the priority it should be truly leaves me empty inside.
This is not only hurting us and other species. This is a clear statement of the character of humanity as a whole and our total loss of respect for a planet that is not only our only home but the one place that has given us everything we need to survive. However, we have decided not to respect those gifts as so many civilizations and cultures before us have and some still do. We think we know it all... we have all the answers... we are so superior to the Earth and think its resources are only here for our pleasure.
How many deaths due to drought will it take to see the truth? How much famine? How much displacement? How much war? What kind of world are we making for our children? How can we make it better? These are the questions we must ask and answer with a positive reply. I simply just don't know how many more years people can afford to simply ask the questions without them being answered.
We have set this all in motion and then we walk away? What does that say about humanity? Will it truly take a revolution to bring this world to its senses?
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