Op-Ed: Worldwide Water Conservation Can't Wait
by Doug Pushard and Christian Sarkar

Americans hear a lot about the drought that we are experiencing in the southwest and other parts of the United States, but we rarely hear about dry conditions in other parts of the world and what others are doing about it.

Some of the other places in the world that are experiencing drought today are:

  • England: recent winter was the second driest in the last 100 years
  • Australia: experiencing one of the worst droughts in a century
  • Portugal: facing its worst drought in 300 years
  • Spain: experiencing the driest conditions in 60 years
  • China: Yunan province is in the midst of a drought that is affecting the drinking water supply of more than 7 million people
  • Eastern Africa: suffering from a severe drought for the sixth year in a row
  • Thailand: 63 of 76 provinces are suffering from drought.

Global Warmning

Drought is a worldwide phenomenon, widespread and accelerating, or so it would seem. And to make things worse, population growth is also exacerbating water shortages. In the last fifty years, we have added 3.1 billion people to our home planet that now need water and it is projected that in the next fifty years another 2.8 billion will be added. Over this same period, the amount of water has not increased. We are drilling deeper and deeper wells to get to very old water sometimes labeled "dinosaur water", building bigger and bigger dams to contain it, and considering water pipelines to transverse mountain ranges to move it. All this, to quench our current thirst.

One of the worst droughts of the Twentieth Century occurred in the Horn of Africa in 1984 and 1985. This NASA image shows Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) anomaly for August 1984. NDVI anomaly indicates the vigor of vegetation relative to the long-term average. Dark red indicates the most severe drought, light yellow areas are normal, and green areas have denser than normal vegetation.

Our consumptive ways are also impacting current water shortages. According to a recent study in the UK, such wasteful habits are pervasive there, too. In the 1920's, the average household used 31 gallons (120 liters) per person per day. That has increased to 39 gallons (150 liters) and is expected to rise. The more affluent we get, and the more appliances we buy for the home, the more water we use. As we watch our precious resource run down the drain while brushing our teeth (an estimated 1.5 gallons or 6 liters), the scarcity is perpetuated.

These thoughtless and wasteful habits are part of the problem. If the entire adult population of England and Wales turned off the tap while brushing, it is projected that enough water would be saved to supply an additional 500,000 houses, according to the UK Environment Agency.

Wake Up Everybody...

The actions some areas are talking about range from the archaic to the inane. In Folkestone, UK, the water company has asked the Environment Minister for the right to make customers install water meters, while in London, which uses more water than the national average and a third more than other European cities, the London mayor Ken Livingstone said they could start by "not flushing the toilet after they had a pee".

Droughts come and go; they are part of our natural weather cycle, regardless of your position on global warming, er, climate change.

But what has undeniably changed is the world's population and our consumption habits. So as small measures are being considered and partially implemented today, just take a moment and contemplate the same droughts fifty years from now.

What Can You Do?

With this as a backdrop, what can or should we do? What can one person or family really do? I know we fully understand the desire to run and hide (i.e. build a fully-sustainable house off the grid in a remote location).

We have both had fears, stemming from such factors as a lack of trust in the government to address the problem, a lack of faith in others, and a feeling that it may already be past the point of no return. But what type of life is it when you survive and billions of others suffer?

Yes, we must take care of our families. But just taking care of #1 is not sufficient. It is one of the reasons we started this website - to help others understand how easy it is to conserve. But that is not enough either. We are being efficient in our water use, but we are also volunteering and helping others conserve.

We urge you to do so as well. Each of us must first be efficient in our water use and secondly, get involved in programs to help others conserve water. Conservation is key to our future and our survival.

Water is our most precious resource and we need to manage it as such and teach others to do the same. We urge you to get involved today, be part of the solution, conserve today and pass it on - volunteer!

Finally, it's time for the politics to end. Let's face reality and search for the truth. No more partisan bickering. If we could have made things better, but instead chose to look the other way, then we are guilty - all of us, from our leaders on down - and our children will blame us for doing nothing.

For those interested in learning more about drought conditions around the world or places to volunteer to help, we recommend the links below. If these sites don't fit your particular circumstances, call your local water conservation agency and volunteer.

Drought and Conservation Related Sites:


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