Some time ago I wrote a post on what I thought the next big thing would be. For some years now I have wondered what, after the internet and the mobile phone, would be the one thing that would capture the imagination and business acumen of the world. My suggestion in that article on my blog was that the next big thing would be the management of garbage, mostly actually the disposal of garbage.
Reading an article on the BBC online news I have to revise that thought. The next big thing is going to be water. The article discusses that a huge underground lake has been found in the Sudanese region of Darfur. This is the area where some of the worse human atrocities are happening with some 200 000 people having died and 2m displaced since 2003.
The article further points out that a fair amount of the conflict may be attributed to the search for water. The Arab nomads and the black African farmers are fighting over this precious resource in a region where drought has led to the spread of desert areas with farming being reduced to subsistence levels.
It seems that the deserts have increased by an average of 100km over the course of the last 40 years and almost 12% of forest cover has been lost over the last 15 years. It is probable that the forests have been cut down to provide basic fuel, with other words firewood.
It is probably fair to say that climate change has been a contributing factor to the dessertification of the area. However, it would probably also be fair to say that mismanagement of existing resources as well as an inherent inability to plan for the future could be causes as well. Sudan after all touches the ocean. There is plenty of water there. Sure it is salt water. But some really cost-effective desalination processes have been developed.
It is a fairly typical way of approaching the threats facing humanity. It's called sticking ones head in the sand. I lived in Cape Town, South Africa during a few years of drought. The area meets its water needs via dams and reservoirs. During a few years of poor rain fall, the water levels of dams had fallen to alarming low levels. Water was restricted to homes and businesses.
The city decided it needed another dam, as the expansion of Cape Town meant that existing services were not coping. On the other hand Cape Town is surrounded by the sea. And in fact in the Western Cape, scientists have developed a new desalination procedure which reduced the costs per potable liter of water considerably, and in fact was in terms of price, fairly competitive with water supplied via dams.
The Cape Town city decided against the desalination plants as it had not been proven to work efficiently elsewhere. The city's politicians were not going to go out on a limb on a new technology. Lets rather ration water and hope that a new dam will supply the water. Of course one hopes that there will be rain to fill the dam.
This kind of limiting viewpoint and lack of political courage is wide spread. Civil servants are not prepared to take a chance on new technology in case this could mean that if the implementation is not successful, they might end up losing their jobs.
One does not know whether the Sudan is actually even considered desalination plants. This is besides the fact that it had apparently long been known that there were underground lakes in the Darfur area. But the Sudanese government had not wanted to spend the money on looking for the new water resources. Instead it was prepared to allow a war to happen. I suppose the poor farmers did not matter sufficiently.
It does remind one of the films which show the future as wastelands with marauding criminals grabbing whatever they can with a small pocket of ethical warriors fighting a losing battle, bring on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Is this what we are heading for? Are we facing a fight for scarce resources, which could have been replaced with some foresight and planning and possibly some courage shown by politicians. As an aside, the stifling of innovative designs for motor cars which are not reliant on petrol, springs to mind as another example.
Whatever the reasons are that have seen mankind sitting back and watching parts of the world turn to dessert, it will certainly be something that future generations will regret. Alone what Israel has managed to achieve in their country, which is not exactly situated in lush rain forests, provides proof that flourishing agriculture can be developed in arid countries.
However, fighting the effects of global warming requires intelligent thought, planning and follow through. It seems that the government of Sudan was unable to do this. The effects of global warming also require a mindset that understands that mankind is capable of extraordinary achievements. It is therefore not necessary for humans to sit back and allow 'fate' dictate that they will be without water and therefore will starve and die of diseases.
Possibly it was the fact that the Sudanese government leaders needed to build new palaces and buy jets for themselves that stopped them from worrying about water. These important activities took precedent over such efforts as ensuring that its citizens had water.
Whatever the reason, it was not really necessary for the people of Darfur to have to battle over water resources. Regrettably, I don't think it will be the last time that the world will disappoint and let down its citizens. And it will also not be the last time that world citizens will need to fight over water resources.