Friday, June 11, 2010

Baghdad Urged to Tackle Water Crisis

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 10, 2010 (ENS) - Iraqis are calling on their incoming government to devote more energy to resolving the country's chronic water problems, with some experts stating that water will be more important than oil in the long-term development of the country.

Even as recent rains have brought some relief to drought-stricken Iraq, the historic problem of water scarcity has forced tens of thousands of rural Iraqis from their homes.

An Iraqi man drinks fresh water from a new artesian well at the al-Hamza School in Bayjia, Iraq. (Photo by Task Force Marne)

The government estimates that nearly two million people face severe drinking water shortages and extremely limited electricity due to hydropower shortage.

Meanwhile, diplomatic tensions are running high as promises from upriver counties such as Turkey, Syria and Iran to allow more water into Iraq appear not to have been met.

This week, Foreign Minister Hoshiar Zebari denounced a plan by Syria to divert water from the Tigris River to irrigate some 200,000 acres of land as detrimental to Iraq's future water supply.

Iraq's Minister of Electricity Kareem Waheed called Syria's move a "shock" that would "embarrass" his ministry and undermine its commitments to hydropower. Both ministers decried Syria's plan as a breach of international conventions on down-river water rights.

"The next government will be challenged on the water issue and there is no option but to deal with it. I understand that Iraq faces more than one problem, but this one can't be ignored. No matter what the government is focusing on, this problem will impose itself," said Dr. Awn Thiab al-Ajeli, the head of Iraq's National Centre for Water Resource Management within the Ministry of Water Resources.

"The first step that should be made is to reach a deal with Turkey as well as Iran and Syria in order to have good, stable amounts of water enter to Iraq each day. The current situation is that the amount is good one day, and bad the next. To make this step, a deal must be made between governments, not just between two water ministries. It depends on the diplomatic relations between the two states," Ajeli said.

Officials have said in the past that security concerns have overshadowed the development of a forward-thinking water policy.

With Iraq's recent and relative stability, experts are now calling for a plan to tackle the water problems that have afflicted the country - from rising salinity in the southern marshlands to the imminent demise of traditional irrigation systems, known as karez, in the north.

An Iraqi boy collects water in a camp for displaced persons at Gardasin, about 260 miles northwest of Baghdad. April 2010. (Photo courtesy UN High Commission for Refugees)

A UNESCO report found that 100,000 Iraqis have fled their native communities since 2005 due to water shortages.

Another United Nations report claims the water levels in the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, Iraq's primary sources of water, have fallen by more than two-thirds. The report cautioned that the vital lifelines could completely dry up by 2040.

"At the current rates, Iraq's water supply will fall an estimated 43 billion cubic metres by 2015, far short of the 77 cubic metres that the country will need to avert a widespread humanitarian disaster," the UN report states.

According to UN research, "Inefficient irrigation, lack of government coordination and weak capacity to manage the resource has compounded the current shortage of water.

"After years of neglect during the previous regime, Iraq's water managers still lack sufficient technical capability and knowledge to address its growing water crisis," the UN states. "Budget constraints have handicapped the government's ability to implement a long-term water management plan."

Social problems connected with water scarcity are common in Iraq - fishermen in the southern complain of a declining catches; in agricultural areas, water shortages have caused wheat production to fall by half.

According to the UN, Iraq now imports 80 percent of its food and 90 percent of Iraq's land is either desert or "suffering from severe desertification."

"Water is more important than oil for Iraq because we have agricultural lands which, without water, are useless. Agriculture is the future and the new government needs to see that," Ajeji said.

The Euphrates River at Dayr az Zwar, Syria, near the Syria-Iraq border (Photo by Shay Haas)

The political impact of water relations with upriver countries is not lost on the UN. "We believe that the problem has political dimensions between Iraq and [its neighburs], which are trying to put pressure on the Iraqi government to advance some economic and political interests. The maneuvering has already begun in determining how much water Iraq should really have," the UN report says.

Dr. Mohammed al-Zubaidi, political science professor at Baghdad University, said water is already the defining factor in Iraq's foreign relations.

"Listen, don't be naive. Upriver countries dominate down river countries because they control water revenue. This gives them advantages in other fields as well," Zubaidi said.

"Let's talk about Turkey and Syria. We have concerns that one day they will ask in return for water, one barrel of water for one barrel of oil," he said. "That day will come soon if Iraq maintains its ignorant strategies of wasteful water management."

The Baghdad government claims it is doing its part in seeking adequate water for Iraq and applying diplomatic pressure to upriver neighbors.

"We have formed delegations to visit Turkey, Iran and Syria to speak with them about sharing water because we face a serious problem in this regard. We have sent letters demanding the need to give us more water," said Jamal al-Battiq, head of parliament's agricultural committee.

Neighboring nations have been reluctant to address Iraq's water woes, but Mustafa Kibargolu, a professor at Bilkent University's international relations department, cautioned that water could be the source of conflict in years to come.

"[There hasn't been any] confrontation or high tension stemming from the unsatisfied demands of parties over the use of water. [But] this should not mislead observers into thinking this is unlikely," Kibargolu said.

"Unless some old water policies are purged and new ones introduced. It is a real possibility that this region will become a time bomb in terms of water rights."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Water Fallout

As thousands of people were preparing to march on Washington to protest the unchecked global economy, in Bolivia an enormous uprising of workers, farmers and other ordinary people won a major battle against globalization, kicking the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation out of the country.

The roots of the recent uprisings were planted last year when the Bolivian government, under pressure from the World Bank, sold off Cochabamba's public water system to Bechtel subsidiary Aguas Del Tunari. While the financial details of the deal have been kept secret, Bechtel's interest was clear: to fleece Bolivians of as much of their tiny incomes as quickly as possible. Within weeks of hoisting up their new corporate logo, they hit water users with rate hikes of double and more. Families earning a minimum wage of less than $100 per month were expected to fork over $20 or have the tap shut off. For World Bank economists and Bechtel executives, that's lunch money. For Bolivian families, it's food for more than a week.

In January, Cochabamba's residents shut down their city for four days with general strikes and transportation stoppages. The Bolivian government promised to lower water rates, and the protests ended. But within a few weeks, that pledge was broken. On February 4, thousands attempted to march peacefully in Cochabamba. But President Hugo Banzer-who was Bolivia's Pinochet-style dictator for most of the '70s-returned to his old ways. Banzer called out the police, who engulfed protesters in tear gas for two days, leaving 175 injured and two youths blinded.

The people of Cochabamba didn't back down. In a survey of more than 60,000 residents in March, 90 percent said it was time for Aguas Del Tunari to go and for the water system to be returned to public control. Residents closed down the city again starting on April 4. But once again, the Bolivian government came to Bechtel's rescue. Four days into the demonstrations, the Bolivian government declared martial law. Police arrested protest leaders, taking them from their beds in the middle of the night, shut off radio stations in mid-broadcast, and sent soldiers into the streets. On April 8, the Bolivian military shot 17-year old Victor Hugo Daza in the face, killing him. "The blood spilled in Cochabamba carries the fingerprints of Bechtel," says protest leader Oscar Olivera.

On April 10, the government finally conceded, signing an accord that agreed to every demand the protesters had made. The people of Cochabamba rejoiced at the victory and the city's normal pace of life returned the next day, just as Banzer started cranking up his PR machine. One spokesman referred to the protesters as narcotraffickers. That lie was repeated by naive reporters and editors worldwide. Meanwhile, Bechtel put out its own spin. "We are also dismayed by the fact that much of the blame is falsely centered on the government's plan to raise water rates in Cochabamba," read a company statement, "when in fact, a number of other water, social and political issues are the root causes of this civil unrest."

It's true that the strength and international attention of Cochabamba's water protests did embolden-and become linked with-other protests around the country, such as marches in the countryside against a new law ending public control of rural water systems, a police strike in the capital city of La Paz, and complaints about unfinished highways. But the people who marched 70 miles on foot from small towns to join the Cochabamba protest, the thousands who filled the city plaza day after day, and the women who went door to door gathering food donations to cook for the protesters, all clearly demonstrate that the uprising was over Bechtel. The fuse was the rate hikes, and narco-trafficking had about as much to do with it as Elian Gonzalez. "This is a struggle for justice," says the mayor of a small town, who walked for 12 hours to join the protest, "and for the removal of an international business that, even before offering us more water, had begun to charge us prices that are outrageously high."

In the emerging battle over global economics, the humble people of this easily forgotten country have offered the world a powerful lesson.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Giants of Water

Editor’s note: Although only about 5% of the world’s water resources are privatized, this is up  from  practically nothing only ten years ago, and the scale of this transfer of ownership is huge. World water withdrawals annually run a whopping 3,300 cubic kilometers, and usage is highly correlated to income. As the world industrializes, water withdrawals will increase far beyond current levels. Meanwhile much of the water infrastructure in the developed world was completed decades if not hundreds of years ago and is in acute need of overhaul, and water infrastructure in the developing world is either non-existent, or has not begun to keep pace with rapid population growth. Governments, always strapped for cash, have no idea how to fund overhaul and new construction of facilities to supply and treat water and resultant waste-water. Water markets and water privatization is undoubtedly part of the solution, but public dialogue has only just begun as to the pros and cons of this approach, and where to draw the line.

San Francisco. – Not only in Europe, but also in the USA, more and more cities and communities suffer from a deficiency of public funds. As a result, American mayors are finding it expedient to have their cities’ municipal infrastructure upgrades (or at least their maintenance and operations) taken over by private firms.

After the extensive deregulation of the American energy market in the nineties, the municipal water supply and treatment facilities seem to be the next sector for privatization. It is just dawning on many Americans that many of their municipal waterworks are being operated by private European companies. These cross-national municipal water operations are being contracted throughout the world.

The global market leader of the companies comprising the new water giants is the French firm Suez Lyonnaise (its water subsidiary is now called ONDEO), whose history actually dates back to the investor group that built the Suez canal. Suez is followed by the French company Vivendi-Environment, an off-spring of Vivendi-Universal, the world’s second largest media and entertainment conglomerate (since acquired by Veolia Environmental). Third is Germany’s RWE. Since aquiring Britain’s Thames Water and the USA’s American Water Works, RWE operates water-facilities in at least 44 countries of the world.

These three European firms have achieved market dominance in America in a short three years: in 1999 Suez bought the American provider United Water, for only a billion dollars. United Water furnishes drinking water to – among other places – Atlanta, Milwaukee and even the capital Washington D.C. Also in 1999 Vivendi bought the largest American water provider, U.S. Filter for more than 6 billion dollars. In the last year the German firm RWE has also delved into the American market. RWE first bought the British provider Thames Water, giving RWE the necessary market-insight and contacts to then buy American Water Works for about 6 billion dollars. At that time American Waterworks was the largest independent American water provider. RWE now operates water companies in at least 27 US states.

Gradually however, resistance in the USA to the European water-giants is growing. For example,the city of Lexington, Kentucky, has already expressed the wish to repurchase its local water facilities, owned by American Water Works (Germany’s RWE). Recently citizens established an initiative, titled FLOW (For Local Ownership of Waterworks). FLOW is backed by the former Governor of Kentucky, Edward T. Breathitt. “Public ownership of water works is vital”, says Breathitt, who deliberately fans old anti-German sentiment as he describes the RWE-campaign as a “propaganda-blitz.”

The biggest problem for RWE, however, is the terrible image and dubious record of their British subsidiary Thames Water. According to a report by the BBC in October 2002, the water pipeline networks of Thames Water in Great Britain have so many leaks that the water quantity lost each day would easily cover the daily requirements of a city with 2.5 million inhabitants. The firm is also a notorious environmental offender: in 1999 the British Environmental Agency levied eight separate rulings against Thames Water, more than were ruled against any other firm in the country.

Not only RWE is experiencing pressure, also Suez is expected to have difficulty with their further expansion into the USA. For instance, city officials of Atlanta, Georgia, have accused Suez of breach of contract after the firm failed to deliver the promised drinking water and service quality within the guaranteed time. In late January, Atlanta deciced to retake control of its waters system that Suez/United Water was contracted to manage until 2019. “Many of the private water providers have totally underestimated the overhead when they presented their original contract offers,” says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California. The Pacific Institute is a think-tank that focuses on the security and policy effects of water scarcity. “With municipally operated water works you at least have the advantage that the collected money remains in the community,” says Gleick, “in privately operated water works, on the other hand, the profits leave the community and sometimes even the country.”

The original openness of many American communities to trust the promises of the multi-national water firms is however understandable: according to estimates by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the communities of the USA must invest approximately 150 billion dollars over the course of the next twenty years in order to renovate the corroded infrastructure of their water supply systems. In addition, to renew America’s municipal sewage cleaning systems, the EPA estimates a cost of 460 billion dollars. To meet this challenge, hiring an internationally active water services firm with more expertise, experience and synergies, seemed a better idea than leaving the job to each municipal water works. However, now that the American media has discovered the strategies of Europe’s water giants, the further expansion of RWE, Suez and Vivendi Environment into the American water market will become more difficult.

Despite this recent apparent setback in the US, Suez and Vivendi remain in control of approximately 70 percent of all privatized water supply systems worldwide, most of them in developing countries.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Water Conflict in Middle East

Fishermen haul in their nets on the Sea of Galilee. Things seem to have changed little from biblical times, but they have.

These waters are a source of great tension between countries, not because they are holy, but because they are scarce.

Yitzhak Gal from the Lake Authority showed me how the waters have fallen to a critically low level.

"Five years ago, the water arrived this line," he explains.
"Today you can see the lake is lower and the shoreline is in the far."

In the summer water levels went below the danger line where it is believed that salt waters may begin to cause damage to this lake, its supplies and its ecology.

Meanwhile, demand for water grows.

As Meir Ben Meir, Israel's Water Commissioner prepared for retirement, he painted a gloomy picture of possible conflict over water between Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan and Syria.

"At the moment, I project the scarcity of water within 5 years," he says.
"I can promise that if there is not sufficient water in our region, if there is scarcity of water, if people remain thirsty for water, then we shall doubtless face war."

The Jordan Valley is not unique. In other ancient water systems - the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates - there is also a danger of conflict over water.

Peace Talks

The water issue may hold up the Middle East peace talks.
Palestinians gathering water from a spring in their village use a quarter as much water as their Israeli neighbours.

Israel shows no signs of returning land with access to rivers or underground supplies.

Samiya gathers water two or three times a day and says that it is a huge burden. She even has to collect water when she is sick.

Palestinian leaders believe that to ensure peace Israel must release land and water and change the way it uses supplies.

Nabil Sha'ath, the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Planning and International Co-operation, says that the Israelis have to rethink their agricultural practices.
"They've got to change their crops, cut down on citrus, cut down on rice," explains Mr Sha'ath.

"You grow rice and cotton in the desert. They are the most water-consuming crops of all."

"If they do that, then really we have a chance to save a lot in the consumption of water."

No Water To Farm

Israeli farmer Tal Adler has left a huge proportion of his land unplanted this year because he knows he will not be able to water it.

Supplies piped to Israeli farmers were cut by 40% last year because of drought.
Israel cut the amount it allowed to flow to its neighbours, too.

In the field next to Mr Adler's, a crop has failed.

"I don't think they know what they're talking about. I think there's a need for agriculture. We can be independent of the world to supply our food. I think we should supply our own food."

Observers says that by 2025, 48 countries will be severely short of water and half the people on earth will not have access to clean supplies.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Global Water Shortage Looms In New Century

When most U.S. citizens think about water shortages — if they think about them at all — they think about a local problem, possibly in their town or city, maybe their state or region. We don't usually regard such problems as particularly worrisome, sharing confidence that the situation will be readily handled by investment in infrastructure, conservation, or other management strategies. Whatever water feuds arise, e.g., between Arizona and California, we expect to be resolved through negotiations or in the courtroom.

But shift from a local to a global water perspective, and the terms dramatically change. The World Bank reports that 80 countries now have water shortages that threaten health and economies while 40 percent of the world — more than 2 billion people — have no access to clean water or sanitation. In this context, we cannot expect water conflicts to always be amenably resolved.

Consider: More than a dozen nations receive most of their water from rivers that cross borders of neighboring countries viewed as hostile. These include Botswana, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Congo, Gambia, the Sudan, and Syria, all of whom receive 75 percent or more of their fresh water from the river flow of often hostile upstream neighbors.

In the Middle East, a region marked by hostility between nations, obtaining adequate water supplies is a high political priority. For example, water has been a contentious issue in recent negotiations between Israel and Syria. In recent years, Iraq, Syria and Turkey have exchanged verbal threats over their use of shared rivers. (It should come as no surprise to learn that the words "river" and "rival" share the same Latin root; a rival is "someone who shares the same stream.")
More frequently water is being likened to another resource that quickened global tensions when its supplies were threatened. A story in The Financial Times of London began: "Water, like energy in the late 1970s, will probably become the most critical natural resource issue facing most parts of the world by the start of the next century." This analogy is also reflected in the oft-repeated observation that water will likely replace oil as a future cause of war between nations.

Global water problems are attracting increasing attention, not just at the international level, but also within the United States, in its popular press, in natural resource journals and as the subject of books. Former Sen. Paul Simon from Illinois recently authored Tapped Out: The Coming World Crisis in Water and What We Can Do About it. A book for the general, non-specialized audience, Simon's publication sounds an alarm about the approaching crisis. "Within a few years, a water crisis of catastrophic proportions will explode upon us — unless aroused citizens ... demand of their leadership actions reflecting vision, understanding and courage."

A prime cause of the global water concern is the ever-increasing world population. As populations grow, industrial, agricultural and individual water demands escalate. According to the World Bank, world-wide demand for water is doubling every 21 years, more in some regions. Water supply cannot remotely keep pace with demand, as populations soar and cities explode.

Population growth alone does not account for increased water demand. Since 1900, there has been a six-fold increase in water use for only a two-fold increase in population size. This reflects greater water usage associated with rising standards of living (e.g., diets containing less grain and more meat). It also reflects potentially unsustainable levels of irrigated agriculture. (See sidebar.) World population has recently reached six billion and United Nation's projections indicate nine billion by 2050. What water supplies will be available for this expanding population?

Meanwhile many countries suffer accelerating desertification. Water quality is deteriorating in many areas of the developing world as population increases and salinity caused by industrial farming and over-extraction rises. About 95 percent of the world's cities still dump raw sewage into their waters.

Climate change represents a wild card in this developing scenario. If, in fact, climate change is occurring — and most experts now concur that it is — what effect will it have on water resources? Some experts claim climate change has the potential to worsen an already gloomy situation. With higher temperatures and more rapid melting of winter snowpacks, less water supplies will be available to farms and cities during summer months when demand is high..

A technological solution that some believe would provide ample supplies of additional water resources is desalination. Some researchers fault the United States for not providing more support for desalination research. Once the world leader in such research, this country has abdicated its role, to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Japan. There are approximately 11,000 desalination plants in 120 nations in the world, 60 percent of them in the Middle East.

Others argue that a market approach to water management would help resolve the situation by putting matters on a businesslike footing. They say such an approach would help mitigate the political and security tensions that exacerbate international affairs. For example, the Harvard Middle East Water Project wants to assign a value to water, rather than treat rivers and streams as some kind of free natural commodity, like air.

Other strategies to confront the growing global water problem include slowing population growth, reducing pollution, better management of present supply and demand and, of course, not to be overlooked, water conservation. As Sandra Postel writes in her book, Last Oasis, "Doing more with less is the first and easiest step along the path toward water security."

Ultimately, however, an awareness of the global water crisis should serve to put our own water concerns in perspective. Whether our current activity is evaluating Arizona's Ground Water Management Act or, at a more personal level, deciding whether to plant water-conserving vegetation, the wiser choice would likely be made, if guided by an awareness that water is a very scarce and valuable natural resource.

Monday, May 3, 2010


It is commonly assumed that the worlds water supply is huge and infinite. This assumption is false. In fact, of all the water on Earth, only 2.5 percent is fresh water, and available freshwater represents less than half of 1 percent of the world's total water stock. The rest is seawater, or inaccessible in ice caps, ground water and soil. This supply is finite.

As Allerd Stikker of the Amsterdam-based Ecological Management Foundation explains "The issue today, put simply, is that while the only renewable source of freshwater is continental rainfall (which generates a more or less constant global supply of 40,000 to 50,000 cubic km per year), the world population keeps increasing by roughly 85 million per year. Therefore the availability of freshwater per head is decreasing rapidly."

Most disturbingly, we are diverting, polluting and depleting that finite source of freshwater at an astonishing rate. Today, says the United Nations, 31 countries are facing water stress and scarcity and over one billion people lack adequate access to clean drinking water. By the year 2025, as much as two-thirds of the world's population-predicted to have expanded by an additional 2.6 billion people-will be living in conditions of serious water shortage and one-third will be living in conditions of absolute water scarcity.

World Resources, a publication of the United Nations Environment Program, the World Bank and the World Resources Institute, has a dire warning "The world's thirst for water is likely to become one of the most pressing resource issues of the 21st century...ln some cases, water withdrawals are so high, relative to supply, that surface water supplies are literally shrinking and groundwater reserves are being depleted faster than they can be replenished by precipitation."

Groundwater over-pumping and aquifer depletion are now serious problems in the world's most intensive agricultural areas. In the U.S., the High Plains Ogallala aquifer, stretching some 800 miles (1,300 km) from the Texas panhandle to South Dakota, is being depleted eight times faster than nature can replenish it. The water table under California's San Joaquin Valley has dropped nearly ten meters in some spots within the last 50 years. Twenty-one percent of irrigation in the U.S. is achieved by pumping ground water at rates that exceed the water's ability to recharge (and most water used for irrigation cannot be recycled).

In the Arabian peninsula, groundwater use is nearly three times greater than recharge and, at the current rate of extraction, Saudi Arabia is running toward total depletion in the next 50 years; Israel's extraction has exceeded replacement by 2.5 billion meters in 25 years and 13 percent of its coastal aquifer is contaminated by seawater and fertilizer run-off; current depletion of Africa's non-recharging aquifers is estimated at 10 billion cubic meters a year; water tables are falling everywhere throughout India; land beneath Bangkok has actually sunk due to massive over-pumping; and northern China now has eight regions of aquifer overdraft while the water table beneath Beijing has dropped 37 meters over the last four decades. In fact, so severe is the projected water crisis in Beijing, experts are now wondering whether the seat of power in China will have to be moved.

In Mexico City, pumping exceeds natural recharge by 50-80 percent every year and experts are saying the city could run out of water entirely in the next decade. In the maquiladora free trade zones all along the Mexican-U.S border, water is a precious commodity, delivered weekly in many communities by truck or cart. In early 2001, the National Water Commission reported that the border area, thick with industrial and human waste and strapped for funds, only treats about one-third of its wastewater and sewage. Ciudad Juarez, growing at a rate of 50,000 people a year, is running out of water; the underground aquifer the city relies on has declined at about five feet a year. At this rate, there will be no usable water left in 20 years.
As Stikker explains, this means that instead of living on water income, we are irreversibly diminishing water capital. At some time in the near future, water bankruptcy will result. Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project adds that, in addition to depleting supplies, groundwater mining causes salt water to invade freshwater aquifers, destroying them. In other cases, groundwater mining actually permanently reduces the earth's capacity to store water. In California, for example, overuse of the underground water supplies in the Central Valley has resulted in a loss of over 40 percent of the combined storage capacity of all human-made surface reservoirs in the state. In 1998, California's Department of Water Resources announced that by 2020, if more supplies are not found, the state will face a shortfall of water nearly as great as the amount that all of its towns and cities together are consuming today.

Further, the global expansion in mining and manufacturing is increasing the threat of pollution to these underground water supplies. (In most Asian countries, for example, these aquifers provide more than 50 percent of domestic water supplies.) World Resources reports that as developing countries undergo rapid industrialization, heavy metals, acids and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are contaminating aquifers.

At the same time, over-exploitation of the planet's major river systems is threatening another finite source of water. "The Nile in Egypt, the Ganges in South Asia, the Yellow River in China, and the Colorado River in America are among the major rivers that are so dammed, diverted, or overtapped that little or no freshwater reaches its final destination for significant stretches of time," writes Sandra Postel. In fact, the Colorado is so over-subscribed on its journey through seven U.S. states that there is virtually nothing left to go out to sea. The flows of the Rio Grande and upper Colorado rivers are in danger of being reduced by as much as 75 percent and 40 percent respectively over the next century.

Perhaps the most devastating analysis of the global water crisis comes from hydrological engineer Michal Kraveik and his team of scientists at the Slovakia non-governmental organization (NGO) People and Water. Kraveik, who has a distinguished career with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, has studied the effect of urbanization, industrial agriculture, deforestation, dam construction, and infrastructure and paving on water systems in Slovakia and surrounding countries and has come up with an alarming finding. Destroying water's natural habitat not only creates a supply crisis for people and animals, it also dramatically diminishes the amount of available freshwater on the planet.

Kraveik describes the hydrologic cycle of a drop of water. It must first evaporate from a plant, earth surface, swamp, river, lake or the sea, then fall back down to earth as precipitation. If the drop of water falls back onto a forest, lake, blade of grass, meadow or field, it cooperates with nature to return to the hydrologic cycle. "Right of domicile of a drop is one of the basic rights, a more serious right than human rights," says Kraveik.

However, if the earth's surface is paved over, denuded of forests and meadows, and drained of natural springs and creeks, the drop will not form part of river basins and continental watersheds, where it is needed by people and animals, but head out to sea, where it will be stored. It is like rain falling onto a huge roof, or umbrella; everything underneath stays dry and the water runs off to the perimeter. The consequent reduction in continental water basins results in reduced water evaporation from the earth's surface, and becomes a net loss, while the seas begin to rise. In Slovakia, the scientists found, for every 1 percent of roofing, paving, car parks and highways constructed, water supplies decrease in volume by more than 00 billion meters per year.

Kraveik issues a dire warning about the growing number of what he calls the earth's "hot stains"- places already drained of water. The "drying out" of the earth will cause massive global warming, with the attendant extremes in weather drought, decreased protection from the atmosphere, increased solar radiation, decreased biodiversity, melting of the polar ice caps, submersion of vast territories, massive continental desertification and, eventually, "global collapse."