Hieronimusing originally posted 6/7/01

Currently there are 22 countries around the world that depend on other nations for their water. Not only does this place people in great peril, but it also means that the water delivering nation has a leverage over the dependent nations. Water stresses and conflict in the Middle East are already significant, according to Werner Fornos, President of the Population Institute (www.populationinstitute.org ) “ The Tigress and Euphrates River being damned up in Turkey causes tremendous risks to their security, because Syria and Iraq don’t have any water of their own. So, subsequently, when you cut off your fresh water, you can find substitutes for oil and food, but you cant really find substitutes for the life blood of humanity which is water.” Fornos is right. The fresh water of life, that is clean water, is only 2% of the water on earth and of that we can make use of 1%.

“When you cut off the water supplies, you are really creating saber rattling,” Fornos pointed out. “Egypt’s Nile River starts in Ethiopia and runs through Sudan, who takes as much water as they can, so we are looking at a shared dependence, that could end in conflict down the road.” Or as I and others have remarked for two decades, the oil wars of today could become the water wars of the future, unless we develop a strategic global plan for equitable water usage.

In Israel, as an example, the greatest aquifer is “sitting under what is today claimed as PLA territory. The Israelis need access to that fresh water,” stated Werner. “Syria wants 40% of the fresh water. ” Because Israel,” unlike its neighbors, has no representation at the UN, a fact of religious discrimination that seems to go unnoticed by the United States and others, “is offering to build the largest desalinization plant on the Mediterranean to supply the Gaza strip, in exchange for unlimited access to the regional ground water.” But as Werner is quick to make clear, the middle east is not alone, pointing to Arizona and other South Western states that are in and out of court over water rights.

I have kept up to date on population statistics and related resource profiles over the past two decades by dialogues as this one with Werner Fornos, because the human population’s growth and shrinking clean natural resources are occurring simultaneously. I was curious what he thought we had or hadn’t accomplished over the past decades and how we are going about addressing this critical situation. While pointing to younger generations’ interest in these global issues, for the most part he felt “that we don’t seem to feel other’s pain until it is pressing in on us. We don’t take this so seriously because most of us live well, the famine and desperation around the world is kept far from us. We don’t turn on the television and see that everyday, so most people don’t really think too much about he depth of suffering around the world due to shortages of the most basic life necessities like water.”

Concern with over population overall, Fornos pointed out “that in the United States today our population is 283 million and 100 years from now the census bureau predicts we’ll be 560 million. If they all consume as the current generation does, then we’re going to hell in a hand basket too.” Massive subsistence farmers world wide, are being pushed by economic stresses, sometimes the result of war, sometimes the result of drought, being displaced into urban populations. This notable change in demographics world wide is a serious issue. So I asked Fornos what it really looked like, in terms of the numbers of people this image includes.

“We now have a world where half of the world’s population of 6.1 billion, are living in cities, in urban centers, and those urban conglomerates make up only 2% of the worlds land mass, yet those people consumer 75% of the world’s resources and produce 75% of the worlds trash. So when we grit our teeth over garbage trucks coming out of NYC, because they have no place to put their trash and they’re heading to dump it in Virginia, we can see in our own country what it must be like world wide.”

The growth for example, in the United States is mostly in coastal areas. As Werenr described, “we have 80% of our population in the United States living on either coast, within a hundred miles of the shore. People don’t live in the interior anymore, jobs are scarce, weather is not dependable, farming is very tough unless you’re part of a huge corporation, a conglomerate, like Archer Daniels Midland.”

Painting a picture that seldom is characterized by famine and starvation as it is around much of the world, we are already seeing a pattern in our own nation, that is a potential forecast for disaster.

Fornos pointed out that in other parts of the world, where there is great emphasis on female literacy, there has been a change in population curves. That once a woman knows what choices they have, can read and write, receive a wage, comparable for the work they do, we can begin to turn this disaster around. “If you look at population growth around the world, of the 80 million people added to global population last year only 1 million were in the industrialized world. In 1950 there were twice as many people in the less developed countries as there were in developed countries. By 2050, that ratio will change to almost 6 to 1.”

We agreed that it’s not just our waters that are being stressed, our forests are declining, our topsoil is eroding, our deserts are growing, our global climate is changing and we’re looking at additional water shortages and hence food shortages.

The question we need to be asking ourselves, is how can we orient our civilization towards sustaining life, and prevent unnecessary suffering? We must, as a world, better address our critical and shared natural resource issues. Love can unify us in this work of nurturing nature and each other, with the ultimate goal of sharing the waters of life.

Zoh Hieronimus