Friday, 6 May 2011


The world faces an unprecedented crisis in water resources management, with profound implications for global food security, protection of human health, and maintenance of all ecosystems on Earth. Large uncertainties still plague quantitative assessments of climate change impacts and water resource management, but what is known for certain is that the climate is changing and that it will have an effect on water resources. Therefore increased efforts will be needed to plan and manage water supplies in future, through increased monitoring and understanding of the interrelationships between population size, climate change and water availability I order to bring about water security.  Without water security, social, economic and national stability are imperiled.
Individuals need to realise that the choices that they make, the lifestyles that they live, the food that they eat and nearly every other component of their lives has a direct affect on the environment.  We need to accept that as a species are living our lives based on a on a linear system in a planet that only has access to finite resources.  It is therefore so important that we cannot continue pumping water from the ground without thought to how it may be restored in years to come.  The human race faces a challenge that could see the end of life on Earth.  We need to adopt the approach of environmental justice discourse by prioitising the rights of nature as being of equal importance to human rights. (Hannigan, J. 1995)

Fortunately, the human race has a reputation for having the irrepressible ability to adapt in times of great adversity by rising to meet great challenges.  We need to realise that it is not too late to make the necessary changes and that even in our own personal capacity, we have the ability to change the world.

Ad/Media Campaign highlighting the global water crisis.

Unlike world wars or terrorism attacks, the global water crisis does not make it into the media headlines, which seems desperately ironic, as it has claimed more lives through the spread of disease than any war to date.  It is a silent struggle endured mainly by the poor and tolerated by those with access to resources, technology and political power to ensure that it is kept at bay.  That said, the message of it’s severity is slowly making it’s way through media channels and into the homes of even the most privileged. 
One such campaign relating to scarcity of water resources both locally and globally is being air at the moment by and organisation called The Rose (Recycled Oils Saves the Environment) Foundation.  The advert, which takes the form of a short radio commercial, is a highly emotive yet strictly informative call to action.  The magnitude of the water crisis is effectively expressed to the audience through a narrator, who likens it to a world war, which he believes is on the horizon.  The narrator moves his listeners by suggesting that the next world war will not be fought over land, oil or political ideals, but rather fresh drinking water which is being wasted and taken for granted everyday.   The advert is not appealing to industries or to major power players, but rather to individual listeners.  It suggests that we are all to blame for the misuse of water, while offering the listener the chance to change the situation.  The call to action asks the audience to visit The Rose Foundation website to find out more information about how they can make a difference.

As mentioned before, I believe that the heart of the solution to the global water crisis is global awareness through communication.  This is why I believe this advertisement to be so successful, as it is a clear and concise message telling individuals if we do not each change our living habits now that we are headed for disaster.  It is of paramount importance that the public is aware of the implications that the global water crisis will have on their own lives in order for them to shift there perspective.  Human beings care more about issues that affect them directly so in order to connect with them and motivate change, communicators working with governing bodies or NGO’s need to draw in an audience by illustrating how the lack of freshwater resources will have a direct impact on their lives.

The Rose Foundation has released various other print campaigns to raise awareness about the issue of water sustainability, however, in my opinion these have been less successful.  The main function of the ad is to relay a scientific fact on to water-consumer, in particular oil users.  For example, one of its print advertisements reads, “Do you know that one litre of used oil can contaminate one million litres of water.”  While the fact is that of a shocking nature, I do not think that the advertisement is constructed in a way, which allows the foundation the opportunity to connect with the public on their level.  The media are constantly pushing messages of this nature and as a result consumers have become thick-skinned.  To employ a condescending tone would be to separate the consumer from the foundation. 

Instead, the governing bodies and non-governmental organisations need to capture the essence of humankind’s affinity for water.  If one looks back in history one can find a myriad ways in which people hold a strong and to some degree sacred, associations with water.  For example the “holy water” which various religious groups use in blessings or baptism.  Water symbolises purity and life to most people which should be key to creating effecting and moving pieces of communication that will bring about a change in the minds of people all over the world and inspire them to change the way that they lives their lives to ensure that it is less harmful to the environment.

The Rose Foundation has provided a platform, which allows for this paradigm shift by putting the power into the hands of the consumer and supplying them with necessary information on how they can adjust their living habits to align with water wise constraints.  It aims to work together with government and other power players, for example, leading petroleum suppliers to start a revolutionary movement toward sustainable living.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

A Local Case Study. Cape Town, South Africa

“The balance between water demand and supply in SA is precarious right now,”
(Edna Molewa, Minister of Water Affairs & Environment.)

Cape Town like most other areas in South Africa is deemed a ‘water-stressed’ zone.  This results from an imbalance between water usage and the amount of water resources available to a particular area.  Water stress causes the deterioration of fresh water resources both in terms of the quantity and the quality.  (Alcamo et Al, 1999)

Cape Town is particularly prone to water stress as each year it attracts a large number of tourists over the summer months when rainfall is at its most scarce and freshwater reserves are reputably low.  Because of this, Cape Town has had to adopt a stringent water management program that ensures that the quantity and the quality of its water is maintained between the winter seasons.  

However it is not merely population influxes that cause the water crisis that affects the City of Cape Town.  I will examine the various components responsible for the depletion of Cape Town’s freshwater resources.

Cape Town harbours many species of alien vegetation that absorb large amounts of naturally occurring ground water, making it hard for natural plantlife (namely fynbos species) to thrive in these areas.  To combat the alien vegetation and thereby encourage natural biodiversity, the City of Cape Town has an ongoing programme dedicated to the removal of alien vegetation in the catchment areas of its dams.  The city’s Integrated Aquatic Weed Control Programme also aims to assist with the management of alien vegetation through the constant removal of alien aquatic weeds, which occur in river, canals, wetlands, dams and treatment ponds.

The city has set itself a goal to be completely “pine free” by December 2015 ensuring the sustainability of its ground water levels.  (Neuhoff, W. ) As part of this project, two forest areas (namely Tokai forest and Cecilia forest) have been targeted and several square kilometers of forest removed.  It was an expensive operation that required a great deal of manpower in order to be completed.  The public’s reaction, as evident in the exert bellow, illustrates the way in which people prioritise their own personal lifestyles over that of the environment in which they live. 

“All the alien pines are being chopped down and our shady forests being destroyed. It's a contentious issue. The removal thereof gives our fynbos (our indigenous, waterwise vegetation) a chance to thrive again, allowing once forgotten, rare varieties to reappear. On the other hand, summer is hot and unforgiving in Cape Town - and our forests give the locals a place and space to relax and cool off in. All said and done - where deforestation has taken place, our fynbos thrives without the pines robbing it of water. The area does look awesome. Unfortunately though, fynbos is mainly shrubs and grasses and very few trees. So our shady corners will be gone forever.”
                                    (Watermeyer, K “Barking Up The Wrong Tree?” Feb 2010)

One of the biggest issues regarding Cape Town’s water management systems is the ability of small municipalities to keep up with an increasing demand for fresh drinking water.   The city has been criticized for not charging water-users enough causing the public to adopt a perception that water is freely available and is therefore disregarded as an asset, which is not precious and does not need to be looked after.

The issue of water and sanitation in South Africa is deeply routed in economic and political policies.  The people who do not have access to fresh water in this country are mostly the margenalised; geographically, economically and/or socially.   According to a national census taken in 2001, 84% of South Africans had access to piped water of which, 32% ran directly into their homes.  A large percent of those living without access to clean, running water where situated in the historically disadvantaged, rural areas. (Neuhoff, W. 2010)
The amount paid for water is usually a very small fraction of the household’s disposable income. However, social or political reasons may require that pricing of water for low consumers should be subsidized.  To solve the issue of affordability, the government provided a life-line tariff, which essentially grants each household access to 6000 litres of free water each month.
However, The World Wildlife Fund heavily criticized this move as it believes that it is greatly responsible for a large percentage of fresh water wastage without creating capital that can be put towards water conservation schemes.
“We haven’t yet shifted the public perception about how important water is and we’re running out of sites to build dams – there’re no other rivers with excess water,”  “Municipalities need the income that water generates and so we’ve built ourselves into this dependency on water. If urban water demand keeps increasing, you’ll never get to water security unless you flatten the demand curve.”                                               
(WWF Living Lands unit head Mark Botha)
The costs of removing tastes and odours from drinking water is an expensive process and cost several million Rand per year.  In order to ensure that municipalities are equipped to continue providing water that is of high quality and in quantities that will meet demands of it’s public, the city counsel needs to carefully consider it’s pricing strategy.

A way forward.

There are however a number of technological solutions available to human beings which could prove crucial in their attempts to adapt to the changes that lie ahead.  Desalination, for example could provide ample additional supplies of water although it is energy intensive and creates large amounts of brine as a biproduct which will need to be disposed of.

Investments in family planning facilities, especially in poorer areas where unwanted pregnancies are a huge burden to impoverished women could greatly help to bring the accelerating population growth under control.  Fewer people being born each year will in time slow down industrial growth and put less pressure on natural resouces in the future.  Informing and educating families on the environmental repercussions that having more than one child will have could assist in decision making as well as increasing the level of awareness about the effects of an increasing population in a world with limited resources. (Brown, L. 2007)

Due to the nature of ‘shared’ bodies of water and boundary rivers, enviromental policies will need to be addressed and strengthened as countries will need to establish transboundary cooperations should they wish to avoid hostility and the potential of war.  As the demand for water heightens and it’s supply continues to be depleted, nations will begin to look at ways of retaining water resources.  It is therefore of crucial importance that governing bodies employ a sence of leadership when planning freshwater resource management.  Water should be recognised as a great priority with a focus on the objective to create awareness of the global water crisis.

Conservation is not to be overlooked as it too plays a vital role in preventing the depletion of our natural water resources.  Water is being wasted all over the world and at every level.  Many environmentalists suggest that the solution to freshwater scarcity is not in establishing ways to create more, but rather looking at ways in which we can utilise that what we have more efficiently.  All elements within the environment are so interconnected that it is feared that if we try to build on one resource using that of another that it will cause another problem further down the line.

It is easy to blame the current state of affairs on industry or agriculture, but we need to be reminded that at the heart of every action is an individual or group there of and it is therefore our responsibility to take charge of our actions to ensure that the resources that are currently available are sustainable for generations to come.  Critics would argue that it over idealistic or utopian discourse to believe that people from different backgrounds will band together to bring about change, but in my opinion it is the only solution. 

A shift in individual perspectives will alter behavioural patterns.  This is essential if we are to overcome the negative projections that are evident in global trends.  Human solidarity is the only force that is capable of facing an issue of this scale.  There needs to be solidarity in both regional and international governance.  We need to establish political will between governments so that they can work in good faith with their own people and those of neighbouring nations.

The current state of affairs

Today’s society centers itself around industrial growth, capital gain and consumerism with little regard to for the environment. It is of paramount importance that people are made aware that the effects of freshwater scarcity will not only cripple agricultural and industrial development, but more importantly it will have a profound and lasting effect on ecosystems and their dependent species.  According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) Red List of Threatened species in 2004, a total of fifteen thousand five hundred and eighty-nine species of plants and animals run the risk of extinction as a result of as a result of their micro environments being destroyed, many as a result of water pollution or rivers running dry.

Although the human race places itself as a superior species, it is vital that we start to view ourselves as an integral part of the ecosystems that we are destroying so that we realise the harm we are in turn doing to ourselves.  Sound ecosystems ensure a balance between communities of species as well as maintaining a rich biodiversity, which plays a fundamental role in maintaining our well-being. Our meals, health and livelihoods depend on biodiversity.  It is responsible for the diversity of food resources, medicinal herbs, water- consuming industries and to some extent the tourism industry.  It is therefore in our best interest to preserve these delicate ecosystems from both an ethical, social and economical point of view.  The European Union estimated in 2010 that the value of goods and services provided by ecosystems stood at over 26 billion euros per year, nearly twice that of human beings.

Although global warming has been a controversial topic in scientific discourse over the last three decades, most scientist concur that climate change is in fact occurring.  However, the effect that it will have on Earth’s water supply remains unknown.  It is predicted that the rise in global temperatures will accelerate the melting of winter snowpacks, which will reduce water supplies to farms and cities during the summer months when the demand is high.  The shift in weather patterns may also mean that rainfall is distributed to other areas causing densely populated areas to become water stress.  Warmer air temperatures will allow the atmosphere to hold a greater volume of water, which means that less water will be held as ground or surface water further decreasing accessibility to water.

Water Pollution

It is also unrealistic to think that existing infrastructure will suffice to manage waste disposal.  There is already more wastewater generated and dispersed today than at any other time in the history of our planet.  Since the 1970’s, pollution in the form of human and industrial waste has increased tremendously and although technological advances have improved the water purifying process in some areas, these areas remain the minority.  For example, 95% of countries around the world still pump their sewerage lines directly into the ocean, untreated.  Smaller municipalities are unable to eliminate all toxic particles from the water as the demand for water increases.  Solid waste is also being carried into the ocean at an alarming rate. 

In recent years the North Pacific gyre has become a dumping ground more commonly referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.  Environmentalists estimate that 3.5 million tonnes of waste has collected in the Pacific vortex creating a floating island twice the size of the state of Texas.  Thousands of birds and other sea creatures die each day from ingesting plastic or other harmful debris, however no one is being held accountable for this toxic waste due to weak global sanctions and environmental policies. (Kirby, A)

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Agricultural Development's Role in Reducing Freshwater Resources.

If we imagine that that the world population is said to rise from an existing 6,6 billion to an estimated 9 billion by the year 2050 it is hard to believe that the global agriculture sector will manage to meet food demands of this population with less water for the production of food.  (Kirby, A. ) Irrigation techniques will need to be engineered to function more efficiently, for example precision sprinklers, which drip water directly onto plants lessening the effects of evaporation.   Pesticides and other harmful chemicals that percolate through the soil and into ground water or that run off as surface water into the sea needs to be halted.  Consumers need to demand crops that have not been poisoned through the use of pesticides by purchasing organic produce.

Consideration must also given to harvesting less water-intensive food types such as potatoes that only require 100 litres of water per kilogram, when compared to   beef that requires at least 13 000 litres of water per kilogram of meat.  It is not enough to simply change what is being farmed or sold in supermarkets, because as long as the demand exists, it is inevitable that someone will come up with the product.  It is therefore more important that body corporates communicate with consumers and create awareness around which foodtypes are most eco friendly giving them reason to change their eating habits and in doing so, lesson the demand for food groups that are water-intensive.