Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Water Crisis

Here's a discussion of the water crisis that is partially right, goes farther than usual, and still falls way short. So let's take a closer look ...


A crisis of proportions as gigantic as the water crisis the world is facing can be averted/slowed down/curbed only by plans that are huge in scale,

It can only be AVERTED by huge plans. It can be SLOWED DOWN by much smaller ones. This is a critical difference. A crisis can only be averted by identifying the exact cause and stopping it. But it can be slowed by acting on any aspect of it. With water, that means private citizens cannot solve it because they didn't cause the crisis: agricultural and industrial uses take the vast majority, while household uses are a tiny minority. Even if you wiped out the entire household sector that would not solve the problem, because households did not cause it. However, better household practices can conserve water and will be needed in the long run. Because those demands are smaller and based on survival, they will outlast larger demands.


thought of way before the red flag arises,

Forget about it. Sure, it would've been nice if people listened to the warnings several decades ago, including the ones I gave when I visited the West Coast in my tweens and warned them about the Water Wars. But that didn't happen and we are now surrounded by red flags that are waving and also on fire.


and which have a sustainable long term plan in place.

That's a nice ideal. Good luck teaching people to think in deep time when they've been trained to think only in immediate terms.


Water Restrictions may seem like the first thought. And yes maybe they would make a sizable amount of effect. But it needs proper planning, based on availability of water in regions, as well as classifying and bifurcating water-intensive regions from the ones who are not. Cape Town faced the crisis and did the same; cut down the usage of water at 50 litres per day. While it may have helped for a period, many jobs are dependent on water: like car washes. Thousands of car wash workers lost their jobs and the economy is affected at the end of the day.

In a resource shortage, you have 3 basic options: use less resource, get more resource, or move from a place of scarcity to a place of plenty. In a water crisis, usually you have to cut down or you will run out. If you cut below the recommended minimum, you run into all the problems of poor hygiene such as dirty people spreading disease. If you cut below the survival minimum, people start dying on you. But look above: the problem isn't caused by people drinking and washing. It's caused by people farming where there isn't enough rain for those crops, and doing jobs that use up a lot of water where there isn't enough for those industries.

So what you really need to do is SHUT DOWN the big drains on the water supply. People don't want to do that because it costs them food or money. They need to realize they're going to lose those things anyway, and start looking for other options. Because if the reservoir runs dry, that's it, they're out of irrigation and industry anyhow. Better to make a planned shutdown than crash it.

This is all very obvious, but it is so unappealing that history indicates people just won't do it. So then your plans have to account for how to handle the fucking stupid people who run themselves into the ground, because statistically speaking, that is what they will do almost every time.


While water tankers are an immediate relief to water scarce regions, no one ever asks where that water comes from. In Chennai, this issue raised its head when private tankers brought out water to help the city people. Little did they know that in the bid to provide water to one part of the city, a whole village worth of water was taken out from the ground water reserves of a village in the outskirts of Chennai. That is both, unnatural and unfair.

Sure we ask. But nobody in power asks, and nobody listens to the people who do ask. The people who care and the people who make decisions are not the same.  This is a problem.

Regarding where the water came from, the answer is consistently the same: it came from somewhere people didn't have the power to protect it. In a resource-poor area, the strong rob the weak. This is routinely the case with water. It's rarely taken from a place of true plenty, because places of plenty are rarely close enough to places of scarcity. An exception is the ocean, which is close to a lot of places poor in potable water, but making oceanwater potable is difficult and expensive. So you don't need to know exactly where the water came from to be pretty sure that it came from somewhere that misses it in a way that will cause some other problem, because that happens more often than not.

If we knew how to make powerful people behave decently, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place, so the problem seems unlikely to get solved from this angle. The closest we can come is banding together in small groups to address problems on a local scale, which is sometimes quite effective. The challenge there isn't getting the job done, it's avoiding the attention of more powerful people who are dangerous.


But the water crisis is such, that long term plans are the only way this can work. Building desalination plants so that we can make use of the abundant ocean waters, is a great plan; but it will take time and should have been done way before.

No shit.

Building desalination plants is a great idea. Those can provide enough water for drinking and washing. They aren't going to provide enough for agriculture or industry, not at our current or projected level of technology. So think about it: how many people will want to stay in a city with no industry jobs and little or no local food, where almost everything has to be imported at high cost? Probably a lot less than are there now, which isn't a bad thing -- you have to cut the population down to your local water budget to be sustainable -- but then those other people need a place to go, and nowhere wants them, which is a separate but related problem. 

If you think the refugee problem is bad now, wait a little longer until big cities in drylands start hitting Day Zero and people flee en masse.  Climate refugees aren't a protected class.  Nobody has to take them in.  But frankly, a lot of them won't even make it out: cities don't have the capacity to evacuate everyone at speed, and humans only last a few days without water, less in hot dry areas.  Large numbers of water refugees will simply drop dead before they can reach safety. 

If you think a border will protect you, check its defense number.  That is, how many attackers per defender before the border fails.  A castle can typically repel 10:1 odds but not 11:1, so if there are 11:1 people trying to get in, they overrun the guards and break in.  No matter how good the defense, there's always a way to overrun it if you have enough desperate bodies to throw at it, and people with no water know they're dead in 3-4 days if they don't get some.  They literally have nothing to lose.  So the only way to defend the border is to prevent that overrun by making sure people can survive where they are instead of trying to get in where you are.  This is something that astute strategists already know, but nobody's listening to them either.


Behavioural change in people so that every household helps the fight, is something that should have been done way before.

Behavioral change is absolutely necessary, but the HOUSEHOLD level won't help much. We need a CULTURAL change, and people don't want to do that. There are many dryland cultures around the world, and every one of them treats water as precious. It makes them very different from everyone else. People don't want to change that much. It would be easier and safer to do this slowly, but the resistance means it's going to happen the quick and dirty way.

What individuals can do is make sure you know the customs of water scarcity. They can keep you alive in a desert that is constantly trying to kill you.


Initiatives like Harpic News18 Mission Paani have been trying to spread awareness since a long time. Log on and become aware, and know what you need to start doing, before anything you do is too late!

It's already too late. It was too late years ago when people swarmed into areas with very little water and refused to act like it was scarce.


Check your local water supply and reserves.

Consider your local water budget. Is your town living within its water budget? If so, you can safely stay. If not, some people will probably have to leave or die, because we can't make the budget bigger, we can only import water, and that's not sustainable long-term. If at all possible, you want to live somewhere with plentiful water, but not so close to a coast that you're vulnerable to increasingly violent storms.

Consider the source of your water. Is it getting bigger or smaller? A majority of places are losing water from dwindling aquifers, shrinking snowcap, and rain that's not coming back. If it's getting smaller -- especially if your population is growing -- that's not a good place to be and somewhere else would be safer.

But a few places are getting way too much rain and now have to contend with the different but also deadly problems caused by flooding. If the latter, check whether your town is on the flats or not. If flat, there just isn't much you can do because the water has no place to go -- Houston, for instance. If not flat, there is a lot you can do to contain or direct water via rain gardens, swales, grass-lined runways, etc. so it does not cause problems and or get wasted. While one household or town cannot fix climate change, they can often do things to minimize the damage locally, and if everyone did those things then it would have wider impact too.


As you can see, we are well and truly screwed.  There are things people could be doing to address this, but mostly they are not.  So, focus on doing what you can locally ... and try not to vote for more stupid people in power, because they are destroying the civilization we live in a lot better than invaders ever could.
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