Water is the symbol of life, of purity.
A lot of images, literature, and symbolisms have been associated to it. It is, however, perhaps as the symbol of life that it has its greatest meaning today. Without it every hypothesis on birth, growth and development will be frustrated.
We know that the 71% of the surface of the Earth is covered in water and around 98% of the total volume is found in the oceans and in the seas and is too salty to be able to be used for agriculture or for domestic and industrial uses. Only 2,5% is constituted by fresh water but the greater part of this (around 87%) is concentrated in the glaciers, in the atmosphere or at great depths and is therefore difficult to use. The principal sources which supply water are the rivers, the lakes and the water-bearing stratum where the quantities of water made available for use through the water cycle collect
Today one of the most interesting socio-political factors is linked to the problem that water is not only scarce, but also distributed in an unequal way on the terrestrial surface. The greatest part of it is concentrated in some basins in Siberia, in the region of the Great Lakes in North America, in the lakes Tanganyika, Victoria, and Malawi in Africa, while 27% is constituted by the five greater river systems: the Rio in the Amazon, the Ganges together with the Bramaputra, the Congo, the Yangtze and the Orinoco.
Today the crisis involving water resources has worsened due to the dynamic interaction of many processes, both at a local level and at a global one: environmental factors (climatic changes, desertification, disappearance of humid buffer zones); economic factors (the future of the agro-industrial food industry, the globalization of exchanges, the increasing need of energy); social processes (migrations, urbanization, demographic growth, epidemics); cultural processes (transformation of the rural and urban systems).
According to an investigation done by the World Bank, 80 countries (containing 40% of the world population) have difficulty in getting water and their water resources do not have those quality requirements necessary for the protection of health.
The excessive economic exploitation of the soil – destruction of woods, intensive agriculture, use of pesticides, excessive building – provokes alterations and unbalances in the water cycle: rainfall is decreasing while the use of water for irrigation and for the cities is increasing. There is more and more need to extract greater quantities of water from the subsoil, to “import” water from distant zones, stealing it from other communities and from other uses. At the same time, human activities are producing increasing quantities of waste and refuse that are introduced into rivers and lakes, worsening the quality of the waters contained in these reserves, from which an increasing quantity is being taken. This process is one of the forms of undemocratic practices among some human communities towards the use of water: a greater demand leads to the worsening of quality, to less water available, and to a greater demand for water to be taken from others.
The water of the water-bearing stratum satisfies around 1/3 of the world population. It is the principal source of rural supplies in most of the world and will suffer an increase in its exploitation in the next thirty years.
The greatest consumption of water is concentrated in the agricultural sector (73,5% of that available). 23% is used by industry and by the energy sector and only 3,5% is employed in domestic uses.
In agriculture, despite the high consumption, water produces less than 5% of the gross domestic product for Israel and Turkey and less than 10% for Jordan and Lebanon; in Palestine and in Syria it represents around 20% and in the Gaza strip 40%.
Furthermore, agriculture is the industry which makes the most inefficient use of water. On a global scale, the efficiency of irrigated systems is calculated to be equal to 40%.
The inefficiency of irrigation depends principally on technological issues, transport and distribution at an industrial level, and bad maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure.
In the last 40 years the irrigated surface of the world has increased each year at the rate of 2,7%. It should be underlined that 73% of the total irrigated surface is found in developing countries. On the contrary, two thirds of the areas equipped with drainage systems and flood barriers are found in developed countries.
Especially in the arid and semi-arid regions, the improper use of the water and the bad management of irrigation systems are leading to the diminution of productive land because of water stagnation or problems regarding salinity or sodium levels. In the areas with strong evaporation, it often happens that soils which have a bad drainage suffer from secondary salination. It is thought that 20% of the 250 million irrigated hectares in the world are subject to salination with the consequent reduction of production.
This phenomenon, to which as yet little attention has been given, will cause notable problems to the economies also in Italy, especially in some southern regions, and consequently to the social systems connected to these. The consequent effects will be those of general variations in the socioeconomic systems but also of new migratory flows.
In the studies on water the term “virtual water” is often forgot. Instead, it incises a lot on the final calculation of the use of water resources, for example in the regions of the Middle East. By “virtual water” is meant the alimentary commodities imported to meet the requirements of the national economy. Today are needed 1000 mc of water to produce a ton of wheat. Besides it is simpler to transport a ton of wheat than 1000 mc of water. In short, ” virtual water” serves to balance the water deficit of a state.
The close relationship between the water gap of a nation and its food gap is well known.
Unfortunately, also in our country, there is the tendency, from the political point of view, to treat water problems and alimentary problems as independent of each other. It is evident instead that these problems are linked between them: given the fundamental role of water in food production, it will only be a matter of time that problems of water shortage will result in a shortage of food.
The average availability pro capita of water decreased notably in the period 1950-90 due to the increase of population. In 1950, 20 million people were deprived of drinkable water; in 1995 they already amounted to 300 million. One man out of five does not have water to drink and one out of two lives in deprived environments without sufficient systems of sanitary hygiene. Drinkable water resources on the planet are becoming exhausted.
The most reliable estimates say that the demand for water will double in the years that go up to 2025 and it will grow to double the rate with respect to the population, which means that 2/3 of the world population will suffer from a shortage of water. The forecasts for 2025, highlighted at the world forum on water (Marrakech, March 21-23, 1997 and Aya March 17-22 , 2000) illustrate numerous factors which limit the use of this resource. In fact the world population will grow by 2,6 million, passing from 5,7 to 8,3 million. The population of the developing countries will be concentrated in cities, going up from 37% to 56%, and will need new structures and new resources. With the increase in needs comes an increase in the consumption of available resources: at the beginning of this century the general consumption was 500 km3 a year, in 2000 it is 5000 km3 a year.
It is estimated that in order to feed everyone, it will be necessary to increase the availability of water for irrigation purposes by 50 to 100% .
The factors that most contribute to explaining the high growth in the world water consumption are the demographic growth and above all the expansion of irrigated agriculture.
If the model of Development is not reversed (towards a principle of long term sustainability) the shortage of water can become a factor which limits development. The need to involve the world of
research and politics in individuating new managerial models and therefore new efforts in this direction is evident.
Worldwide, water resources are abundant. It is at a local level that the natural supplies are very varying, uncertain and more and more limited.
It is the local level, however, that suffers the most transformations today. These are above all of a technological and conceptual nature for the retrieval and use of this precious resource.
In the past years, the projects dedicated to creating a supply of water have been the most obvious answer to the water needs, trying to anticipate the increase in demand. In recent years however, strong obstacles have been found. The idea to increase the supply to face the increase in demand is no longer considered to be a solution, above all for the spiralling increase in the costs of construction and for decreasing efficiency of its transformation in the agricultural sector,
(reduction in the price of cereals) but also because of the environmental and social aspects and for the inefficient use that is made of it.
There is today the tendency to consider the resource of water as an economic good. The shift, however, to a system of world market for water would mean a further loss of sovereignty for the national State and populations placing the survival of many in the hands of a few.
It is evident that these evaluations are already a reality: developing countries suffer while western countries exaggerate.
It is evident enough that the control of water resources means the control of populations (a little like what happens today with oil resources). Some already foresee an international bourse for water that regulates on the one hand the resources and on the other the exchanges, either direct or
virtual. In this way conflicts between States for having these resources, which are widely foreseen today, would be avoided. All of this, however, would change the concept of sovereignty for States.
The actual socioeconomic system will bring to a further increase of the use of water.
Unido (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) has foreseen, for the following years, the doubling of industrial usage and the quadrupling of pollution.
In fact, the pollution factor is the other great problem involved in the retrieval and in the management of the water resources.
Pollution is produced in particular by agricultural and forest activities, urban dumps, transport and construction, and it suffers from a scientific and technological system which is no longer suitable to the new demands of Sustainable Development.
The diffusion on the territory of contaminating substances effect above all the waters that are underground, which progressively become rich in salts, pesticides and toxic elements absorbed by the soil; the contamination of the water-bearing stratum due to nitrates of agricultural origin is an environmental preoccupation, above all where irrigated agriculture is widespread. It needs to be underlined that the damage of the water-bearing stratum does not come only from pollution of agricultural origin, but also from the excessive exploitation of wells, which provokes the lowering of the level of the stratum and the consequent intrusion of sea water, with ruinous effects on the quality of the water and subsequently of the land (a phenomenon that produces desertification).
It is estimated that in developing countries 90% of sewage water is dumped untreated into bodies of water. Many of the bodies of water close to urban centres have been contaminated and their use has been compromised. Furthermore, it is estimated that half of the water distributed in developing countries is lost due to the inefficiency of the network and damages present in it.
The world health organization has calculated that every year around 5 million people die as a result of illnesses caused by the drinking of contaminated water (every day 6.000 children die).
It is evident how much attention should be given to the retrieval and the management of water resources today.
In this document we want to bring this to the attention not only of the scientific world but also of the political one.
We are convinced that the solution to this problem, as with all those tied to environmental matters, is to be found in a different vision of the things which regard the world.
The western world, after having exported systems and models of consumerism, has to begin to produce” and therefore to globally export new scientific, technological and political models.
Models that “respect” and emulate the same principles on which natural and environmental Systems are based.
Science, Research and Politics have still a long way to go, but there is not a lot of time.