March 22nd, 2013
11:09 AM ET

The coming water wars?

This article was originally posted last month. It is being reposted today, World Water Day. For more What in the World, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

By Global Public Square staff

Imagine a large body of water – about the size of the Dead Sea – simply disappearing. It sounds like a science fiction movie. But it’s not. It’s happening in real life – and we've only just found out.

A pioneering study from NASA and the University of California Irvine shows how the Middle East is losing its fresh water reserves. As you can see from the satellite imagery in the video, we’re going from blues and greens, to yellows and reds: that’s 144 cubic kilometers of lost water between 2003 and 2009. What do we mean by “lost water”? Most of it comes from below the Earth’s surface, from water trapped in rocks. In times of drought, we tend to drill for water by constructing wells and pumps. But the Earth has a finite supply. NASA’s scientists say pumping for water is the equivalent of using up your bank savings. And that bank account is dwindling.

This could have serious implications. Conflicts over water are as old as the story of Noah – in 3,000 BC. The Pacific Institute lists 225 such conflicts through history. What’s fascinating is that nearly half of those conflicts took place in the last two decades. Are we going to see a new era of wars fought over water?

Consider that NASA’s study is of one of the most volatile regions in the world. We tend to think of the Middle East and its upheavals as defined by oil. Perhaps in the future it will be defined by water. We often talk of a world of nuclear haves and have-nots, but a world of water haves and have-nots could be even more dangerous.

Part of the problem is that the world’s needs have changed. Look at the population boom. We’ve gone from 4 billion people in 1975, to around 7 billion today. The United Nations projects we will hit 9 billion by 2050. Meanwhile, as India, China, and Africa continue to add millions to their middle classes, global demand for all kinds of food and products will increase. All of those products cost money – except for water, which we like to think of as abundant and free. Yet water is the resource we need to worry most about. According to the World Health Organization, more than 780 million people – that’s two-and-a-half times the population of the United States – lack access to clean water. More than 3 million people die every year from this shortage. As our needs expand, so will the shortfall.

What can be done? Most of our water is actually wasted – and the United States is actually one of the worst culprits. We can change that. Singapore already treats sewage water to convert it into clean drinking water. We need to consider large-scale desalinization, where the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are world leaders. And remember, agriculture uses up as much as 70 percent of water. We need to fund research into more effective crops. A village in India reportedly set a world record this month for rice produced in a single hectare. How? Simply by changing when the seedlings were planted, a process which saves water.

Perhaps most simple and effective would be to put some kind of a price on water – so that people use it with a greater sense of efficiency and care.

All kinds of innovations are underway.

Next month the United Nations will mark World Water Day and the international year of water cooperation. It’s a good time to start thinking about big global measures to regulate the world’s most important resource.

Post by:
Topics: Conflict • Water • What in the World?

soundoff (241 Responses)
  1. james

    FZ
    believe it is desalination NOT desalinizaton-also the cure to most of the ills you discuss is very proper human population control-there is no reason for any family in the world to have more than 2 kids-where are the initiatives of the likes bono(believe he has many kids),gates&buffett(they want more kids so they will be eventual consumers and purchase products)-how bout more spots on world population control modalities and implementation

    February 24, 2013 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • Joe

      Too many people is the problem. Humans are like 95% water– so each of us is walking around "storing" water inside us. All the bottled water, canned goods that use water– this is water that is taken out of the environment... stored away inside containers. All the agriculture to feed all of us... and 70% of all water use is agricultural.

      Listen, want to solve the worlds problems: Force each couple to have only one pregnancy, world-wide. After your one pregnancy, the father and the mother are sterilized. Over many generations, the population will halve and halve and more than halve... and get our population down to about 1 million people over many generations.

      The world will be absolutely beautiful again, and there will be plenty of resources for everyone... including the animals, trees, etc.

      February 25, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Reply
      • Rob

        If everyone started today, it would take approximately 1,610 years (23 generations assuming each generation lived an average of 70 years) to scale back from the world's current 7 billion to less than 1 million people.

        In terms of time requirements, war is more efficient.

        February 25, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
      • geeworker

        or a lottery system

        February 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
      • Steve

        War used to be 'more efficient' but with all the advances in medical technology too many people are 'surviving' – what we need it a small limited nuclear event to fast forward to our ideal population on earth!!

        February 25, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
      • Palaniappan Rajaram

        @Rob: Did you mean 1 million or 1 Billion? I'm assuming that it was a Billion you meant. I don't think we need to scale back 1B. Even throttling back to just 5-6 B will do fine. Do you know what the calculation is in order to hold at the current level?

        February 25, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
      • hjc

        Force them?

        So glad you are not in charge Joe!

        February 26, 2013 at 2:33 am |
      • Criddler

        so numbers arent your thing... thats ok...

        February 26, 2013 at 10:11 am |
      • jay Lazo

        Hey Joe your plan is flawed, the math is bad.
        Not to worry, there's an asteroid ...

        February 26, 2013 at 10:12 am |
      • allenwoll

        Joe - "FORCE" - How ? ?

        February 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
      • rrock

        Joe, you have a good idea but your rambling borders on incoherence.

        February 26, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • doctorx777

        Joe,

        I'll hazard a guess you aren't willing to put YOUR name forward as one of the billions you want this holocaust to wipe out.

        Am I wrong?

        February 26, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
      • rob

        Here are the list of ways a population could be controlled or shrunk,

        1. Thermonuclear world war with a nuclear winter but even this will have a limited effect

        2. disease- natural or man made, it is getting easier and easier for scientist to construct or reconstruct viruses, in the future it will be easy to make viruses. It will then be just a matter of time before it gets in the wrong hands.

        3. resources such as oil and water slowly run dry, this will have a dramatic effect on any population, there are many countries already with a negative population rate "russia".

        4. government- China is a leading example in controlling their own population with a one child policy.

        5. space weather such as asteroids and cosmic blast, very unlikely

        February 26, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
      • goalie127

        So, um, we'll be able to deliver forced sterilization to the 3rd world, when we can't currently deliver water or medicine? Good plan.

        February 26, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
      • Bayus

        Religions will never allow the birth control measures to make this earth a better place to live.
        They need adherents to fight the other religious adherents AND do not believe the Earth has finite resources.
        Get rid of religions and humans may be able to survive. On a more practical level, the Great Lakes watershed must be preserved and the fresh water flowing through the St. Lawrence Seaway should be tapped and sold. I know their will be ecological issues, but....

        February 26, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
      • Sam

        Math in the hands of the ignorant is a deadly weapon. It may be accurate to depict a generation as having a 70 year lifespan but not a 70 year reproduction cycle. That is closer to 30 years. Assuming that the goal is one billion, not one million (one million is dangerously low as far as sustainability), and that infant mortality rates remained standard along with continued rate of people who chose not to even have one pregnancy then we would reach a reproducing population that sustains a population of 1 billion in less than three generations. In fact it would occur before the global population was reduced to three billion as a result of normally occurring deaths. At that stage we would need to increase the birth rate to about 1.05 per adult just to sustain a 1 billion population on earth...before we ever reached that number. That would occur before 2120, not around 3170.

        February 27, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
      • John

        There's not gonna be any wars over water. The poles will melt and that should help. There's also a lot of water in space.

        February 27, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • StartWearingPurple

        Less people – less chances for breakthroughs in anything, one million people would slow down the progress dramatically

        February 28, 2013 at 8:16 am |
      • thatguydownsouth

        Really.... -__- First of all were about 75% water. Second of all when the Earth was covered in massive dinosaurs you dont think water was stored up in biomass?

        February 28, 2013 at 10:02 am |
      • PeopleAren'tThatSmart

        Humans, like other animals, will continue to overpopulate the earth until the resources run out...animals do it frequently, and humans are not immune to this even though we can see it coming. The only questions are when it will occur, the severity, and how quickly the shortage take its toll.

        February 28, 2013 at 10:25 am |
      • Sam

        Really...that's your solution? Only one child and then sterilization?

        February 28, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
      • BlueDogMS

        I wonder how many of you "culling" folks support Obamacare?

        March 1, 2013 at 12:42 am |
      • Christian

        I totally agreed. The major problem is a constant growing human population who act as if the world has infinite resources such as water. The math is not complicated. There is not going to be anything left if we humans don't stop world population. I feel that in this times having a kid should be consider a privileged and not a human right.

        March 4, 2013 at 11:34 am |
      • deep blue

        I'm somewhat distressed by the number of these comments that I fear are not sarcastic.

        March 24, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Andrzej

      Desalination, desalinization, or desalinisation refers to any of several processes that remove some amount of salt and other minerals from saline water

      February 25, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Reply
    • dontjumptoconclusions

      spelled three different ways: desalination, desalinization, or desalinisation

      February 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • pmorin

      YES! We need to control the population worldwide! I’m all for mass sterilization but because no politician in the world will risk their carrier even bringing up the subject of population control we need to start taxing anyone who has more than two kids! Not reward them if they have more money. And If you have no kids it’s a huge tax credit!... By the way I’m a woman in my thirties and have chosen not to have kids of my own because of the damage over population is doing to the earth.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Reply
      • Shirogami

        I'd pat you on the back, but your hand is in the way. It's probably a good thing that you aren't pro-creating, but you do realize the population problem lies in that the countries and demographics with the least ability to support themselves are generally those with the highest birthrates and the developed countries generally have the lowest birthrates already.

        February 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • leee

        yes thank you for not breeding

        February 27, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
      • rummydiver

        I am sure you could have saved some time by posting your picture, I am postive that would have summed up why you are "helping" the over population problem.

        February 27, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
      • John

        How can you believe in science/logic/etc. enough to know that lots people need to die but not believe in it enough to see that it can provide much better solutions than death?

        February 27, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
      • LP

        @Shirogami – yes, developed countries have lower birthrates, but inhabitants of those countries also use vastly more resources – including water – than people in undeveloped countries. It's not a black-and-white as you make it out to be.

        February 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
      • Sam

        Wow....mass sterilization worldwide? I think Nazi Germany had something like that beginning in 1933. Not sure we want to go there again.

        February 28, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
      • shinden58

        Pmorin,

        I applaud you for being so thoughtful. Tax the hell out of the Duggards and anyone with over 2 kids. Too bad most other people will not have enough for thought. They would rather wait till we have a famine or a virus cuts down the population.

        February 28, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
    • Vic W. Johnson

      Right on!

      February 26, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Reply
    • bobpitt

      Desalinization is a great solution, the technology is available..

      February 27, 2013 at 10:12 am | Reply
      • Freedom Fascist

        Don't know the actual numbers but I heard that countries who are already heavy into the desalinization process are killing ocean life due to rising salt content. Forget it, there is no hope for humanity on its current path. We believe in hopeless hope and thats why logic will never reign. Forget your priest, forget the lawyers, mother nature's going to give us a rude awakening before 2020 – guaranteed

        February 27, 2013 at 11:22 am |
      • thatguydownsouth

        The best method is solar powered desalinization. The salt should be stored and broken down for the chemical industry to use for manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, not put back into the ocean.

        February 28, 2013 at 10:05 am |
      • desert voice

        Desalination is insufficent and expensive. Wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia can still afford it, but even they not for long. I have a better idea, but no resources. Had I been a Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, I would be already heavily investing not in the desalination plants, but in mini-desalination machines! If they can be produced at low cost, and sold to all households in the world, this will enable the governments to build aqueducts of sea water across the desert areas. Then every person will desalinate his or her water! This idea, by the way, is especially attractive for California, which has plenty of salt water, but not drinking water! This for me is a better, God-inspired idea, that all the evolutionists will ever be able to come up with. I am a creationist!

        March 2, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • Sacapus

      You got this right !

      Birth control is the only way out of this mess.
      When there is a famine in an overpopulated country, we needs to stop sending food and aid, when peoples are experiencing rough time, they think twice before having 5 or 6 child's. By sending them aid, we artificially allowing them to feed children's that they can afford to feed in the first place, its hard but its life.
      Any country without a birth control law should be denied any assistance.

      India, Africa are good examples of uncontrolled population growth that will takes them to a dead end.
      Increasing water and food supply is not a viable solution.

      Send them birth control pills, not food.
      How many more children's can you have if you can even feed and care for the one you already have ?

      February 27, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Reply
      • greg

        GOD controls the heavens and the earth and he can send as much water as we need there is plenty in heaven,read your bible,and pray.

        February 28, 2013 at 8:08 am |
      • Matt

        You seem like a smart educated person...........

        February 28, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • NAM VET

      REALLY JAMES–THE BEST MINDS IN THE WORLD KNOW THAT WE ARE THE WATER PLANET–WITH THAT IN MIND
      SALTY SEAS AND OCEANS ARE ABUNDANT AND SUSTAIN ALL LIFE ON THE PLANET–YES IT MUST BE DESALTED
      SO TO SPEAK AND YES IT WILL COST A LOT OF DOLLARS TO ACCOMPLISH THAT. YES IT IS DONE EVERYDAY
      ON THIS PLANET-YES EVEN OUR AIRCRAFT CARRIERS AND SUBS DO IT. YES THEY REPROCESS WASTS TO DO
      JUST THAT . YES EACH AND EVERYDAY IN ALL AREAS OF THE WORLD RECYCLE WASTE WATER INTO GOOD
      WATER.-THE MIDDLE EAST TAKES SALTY WATER FROM THEIR BOARDERING SALTY SEAS AND OCEANS AND
      MAKE GOOD WATER–NO THEIR ARE A LOT OF AREAS OF THIS EARTHS SURFACE HAVE LITTLE–THEY HAVE HAD
      THAT PROBLEM SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME AND YET THEY STILL SURVIVE.-WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY TO
      PRODUCE MORE– THOSE WHO NEED OR WOULD LIKE MORE.-WE YET TO HAVE THOSE STEP FORWARD AND GET THE JOB DONE. THINK BIG –THERE IS NO PROBLEM WE CAN NOT SOLVE, WITH ONE QUESTIONABLE AREA------–POLITICS–EVEN THAT CAN BE SOLVED–WE STILL STAND UPRIGHT AND HAVE USED OUR INTELLIGENCE
      TO GREAT THINGS WE THOUGHT WERE ONLY DREAMS LONG AGO---WE CAN BE PART OF THE SOLUTION
      OR WE CAN BE PART OF THE PROBLEM..THOSE THAT HAVE THE ABILITY WILL DO THE HARD WORK AND THE REST
      OF US WILL SUCK THE REWARDS–THAT IS JUST THE WAY IT IS.

      February 28, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Reply
      • Petr

        @Nam vet,yah its called desalination plants in Florida and other coastal states and many European countries as well..Reverse osmosis is used in most subs and ships that are away from land for extended periods ,aircraft carriers,battleships etc...We're having states battling over water rights right now in states of Tennessee and Georgia with a lake that's been used for domestic water for years and the other state says it claims and wants imminent domain for their state because it facing drought conditions yearly..For population limits follow Chinas lead and make families smaller but not to the extreme China does that it eliminates a child if its born accidently by abortion or state funded foster homes...Be responsible and think of our future,not like countries like India,Africa that procreate like rabbits while starving to death ..Our world is in our own hands,respect it and it'll serve us well for generations to come!!

        March 24, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • The Anti-Christ

      You say population control will help? Well don't worry, I'm coming soon and I have that taken care of.

      February 28, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  2. Cielo Jerde

    Very sad what's going on in the Middle East and they loosing their clean waters. No doubt in a near future water will become the black oil of all nations! Education is in order to slow this dark deadly future!

    February 24, 2013 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • glennrobertg

      Read the book. "Cadillac Desert" by Marc Reisner. Published in 1986. About how everything west of the 100th. meridian in the U.S. is a desert except the north pacific coast. The book is a wake up call that we ignore. With water in short supply we manage to waste most of it.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:11 am | Reply
    • NAM VET

      THER IS EDUCATION AND THERE IS A MIND SIGHT OF IGNORANCE TO THOSE THAT SUBJUGATE THEIR PEOPLE. INTO
      DOGMA THAT KEEPS THEIR PEOPLE IN THE 6TH CENTURY. ----–WE AS A PLANET POPULATION THAT LEARNS THAT ALL THINGS CHANGE AND WE CHOOSE THOSE THAT BENIFIT OUR LIVES FOR THE BETTER FOR
      OUR FAMILIES AND LIFE.

      February 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  3. daylue S.

    I was shocked when I heard Fareed say "India, China and Africa" when he was talking about the coming water war. Africa is not a country, why talk about a continent like it is a country? Please do better next time.

    February 24, 2013 at 10:40 am | Reply
    • Bill B

      Maybe because the problem is occurring in many countries in Africa. Would you have preferred Farid to have listed 30 or 40 different countries in Africa where there could be water wars or did it just make more sense to say "Africa"?

      February 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Reply
      • mique

        He could have mentioned , "sevral countries in Africa".

        February 26, 2013 at 6:35 am |
      • mique

        He could have mentioned , "several countries in Africa".

        February 26, 2013 at 6:36 am |
      • bob

        The issue is water. Africa or whatever countries make up the continent, the problem is still water.

        February 26, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  4. Melissa Sweet

    This important topic needs the kind of public discussion that Fareed prompts on his show, which has a worldwide audience. Water is one more reason to reconsider fracking and to establish more renewable approaches to farming.

    February 24, 2013 at 10:41 am | Reply
    • not fracking

      Melissa, fracking USES water and leaves all those strata contaminated with natural gas, methane and whatever else was stirred up. Hydroponic farming and the used of annual crops rather than perennials is part of the answer to our heinous overuse and subsequent contamination of surface waters. As a species, we like to think we are so smart but it's time we demonstrate it.

      February 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
      • Matthew

        I believe that is exactly what Melissa meant. Reconsider our rush to do fracking because it consume so much water and contaminates even more.
        We need to seek agreement, not seek disagreement.

        February 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
      • farmerjeani

        The solution is in the way we lie our lives. Our ancestors actually managed to live their lives without cell phones, TV, cars, electricity. I'm not suggesting we go back to the tone age, but certainly we need to eliminate some of the 'perks' of modern society. It will be very hard to make decisions on what those things will be. Its these hard decisions that turn people into global warming deniers. it is too painful to consider. But the comment on growing only annuals for food is way off base. Perennial plants are more water efficient than annuals. there roots go deep to capture all of the water as it travels down through the soil. They capture the snow melt that is lost long before annuals reach their peak water use. In very dry years the perennial may not fruit, but it will survive to fruit again. Even in the arid west there are native edible perennial fruiting plants that survive year after year on only a couple of inches of annual rainfall. All gray water should be recycled through charcoal filters and used as water for outdoor plants. Lawns should be replaced with mixed plantings of vegetables and flowers. Farmers should change to low water, low energy irrigation systems and these systems should be provided to 3rd world and emerging country farmers at a price they can afford or free. That's what our company, Phoenix Agro Environmental Solutions is doing.

        February 28, 2013 at 10:12 am |
  5. RICHARD

    CONSUME PROPAGATE, OBEY. AMERICANS HAVE BEEN SUBJUGATED AND ARE EVOLVING INTO A NATION OF
    SERFS.

    February 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Reply
    • doughnuts

      Rowdy Roddy Piper will save us!

      February 28, 2013 at 9:08 am | Reply
      • PeopleAren'tThatSmart

        The Iron Sheik!!

        February 28, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  6. will

    during this presentation I couldn't help but think of the plight of the people in the village of Bittar and their struggle to keep the supply of water they enjoyed for many years and now threatened due to a security wall being built by the Israelis.

    February 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  7. bloke

    Saudi Arabia and UAE are "world leaders" in desalinization? More like consumers, since their systems are all designed by western firms. This technology also has one huge drawback – they must consume huge amounts of fossil fuels, so much that per capita, they are have a bigger footprint that Americans.

    February 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  8. Lynda Skow

    Fareed, you talk about paying for water. Well, we do. In fact, in Fort Wayne, IN. we are having a battle with our water company. Some say the company Aqua Indiana is providing poor quality water, and they are charging for a big minimum amount used instead of water actually used by the customer. The city is threatening to buy out the service, as they have done in the past with other areas in the state. Since moving here 15 years ago we have had water pressure problems...not enough pressure for the many houses built in the late 90's and first decade in the 2000's. People need to flush twice in some areas. And we have had watering bans in summer....can't water gardens and lawns or wash cars. The water company poor service plus the drought have had many consequences. We'll see what this summer brings.

    February 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Reply
    • water service

      Lynda, water isn't manufacturerd and supplied by "the company". Your company can only provide what is available, which is diminishing. In south Florida, water restrictions have become normal for the past 10 years, at least. If your city, which has a lovely zoo, takes over the water service, I doubt they will be able to do better because they can't sell what they don't have. If water is a service and not a commodity, your company may then continue to charge you a monthly rate just to maintain the infrastructure, whether you use or not. You always have the option of installing rain barrels for your lawn and car washing needs and a rooftop cistern for your other needs.

      Think not what your water company can do for you but rather, what can you do for yourself?

      February 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Reply
      • doughnuts

        Fort Wayne doesn't have a diminishing supply of water. The area experiences well over three feet of rainfall annually. There problem is that the water company infrastructure hasn't kept pace with teh expanding population.

        February 28, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • PeopleAren'tThatSmart

      A green lawn should be the world's last concern when it comes to water usage.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:47 am | Reply
  9. 100 % ETHIO

    "The coming water wars?"

    Well, it was a big discussions since the early 1900's and lately by Geneva conventions.

    However, America is safe. It has enormous Oceans and Lakes.

    Sadly, good nature is not on Middle-East side. The dessert Land, is what Middle-East referred to. This dry climate area is not suitable for better life.

    Where do they...throw the Uranium residue?

    February 24, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Reply
    • Christopher

      Concerning water and not having enough.
      It starts with Population Control, we have to stop increasing the Human population for at least the next 5-10 years.
      Start thinking and stop Breeding for a while.

      February 27, 2013 at 3:27 am | Reply
    • Mike Wiggins

      In reference to "However, America is safe." I say "Are you kidding?"

      If the US ever has another civil war it's going to be over water. That's because many of our western states, with expanding populations and diminishing water sources are increasingly desperate to get more sources of water. California has problems trying to irrigate its farmland but (to exaggerate) all homes seem to need to have a pool. A lot of southern California's water already comes from the Colorado river, and now look at the (much) lowered water levels in Lake Mead. It's a situation that has California looking for more water from its western neighbors, and are being refused in some cases. There has even been talk of a water pipeline from Lake Superior to the West Coast.

      So, America is certainly NOT safe from fresh water supply problems. We had just better hope some of these states come to their senses and remember that they are mostly desert and can not pretend otherwise. They need to limit the number of pools, golf courses, farm lands, etc. in order to keep a balance when it comes to water usage.

      February 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  10. cmyounger

    There's a very interesting article here about a newly developed way of removing salt and toxins from water.

    U.S. & Saudi Engineers Turn Gas Well Water to Drinking Water
    http://ens-newswire.com/2013/02/05/u-s-saudi-engineers-turn-gas-well-water-to-drinking-water/

    February 24, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Reply
    • PeopleAren'tThatSmart

      one glass...and then you die.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:54 am | Reply
  11. Wes Strickland

    As a professional who helps manage water resources in many areas, I think Mr Zakaria does an admirable job of describing one example of the problem and some solutions in the short time allotted. One fact of water is that it is very heavy and not generally transported outside political boundaries, except with great controversy. Thus, water in the US cannot be shipped to the Middle East easily, and water use in one country has little effect on others. But with increased water transfers, conservation, reuse, desalination and smart decisions about where in the world certain activities are located we can accommodate larger populations at a higher standard of living than now.

    February 24, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • glennrobertg

      Wes, as a professional I hope you have read the book "Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:19 am | Reply
  12. Techkraut

    Water is a regional not a global issue. Saving water in parts of the world where it is abundant makes as little sense as finishing your plate as a child because children in the third world are starving. Water cannot be shipped globally in its natural primary form, but it can be shipped as grain or meat.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:45 am | Reply
    • irunner

      "Saving water in parts of the world where it is abundant" makes more sense when your neighbor (hey, it's a small world) has no water and WANTS YOURS!

      February 26, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  13. The real agenda

    ",,, put some kind of a price on water... " and give it to the have-nots so we'd all be equal, I'm sure.

    February 25, 2013 at 10:14 am | Reply
  14. j. von hettlingen

    Fareed, in many European countries water is not free. In some countries water supply is supervised by local authorities, while in others water supply is in the hands of private companies like Thames Waters in Britain or GDF Suez, its Lyonnaise des Eaux in France. These are public companies and have affliliates abroad.
    Indeed, water is going to be as precious and scarce as food, if supply doesn't meet the demands.

    February 25, 2013 at 10:32 am | Reply
  15. mikemunhallphotos

    What Mr. Zakaria doesn't mention is that Nestle, and some other giants, is attempting to buy up all the drinking water so that it will corner the market. Bottled water already costs more than gasoline retail and the US alone buys several billion bottles of water per year.

    February 25, 2013 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • lazy Americans

      That's because most Americans are so stupid they'll purchase bottled water to drink rather than buying a cheap faucet-mounted filter (PUR, Britta, Zero, etc) and for roughly $8/year, have all the filtered water they need for drinking. No need to recycle all those bottles and no need to lug water home from anywhere. People are really dumb.

      February 25, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Reply
      • JT

        ...or maybe you're just describing your own behaviors. It's been my experience that most of the bottled water is bought for consumption outside of the home – so having a water filter at the house doesn't do anything to decrease the demand.

        People (mostly) don't buy bottled water for the taste or because they think it's healthier than tap water. They do it because they don't have any tap water available to drink. I can't say that I've ever been to a restaurant and seen people ordered bottled water when they give you glass of tap for free... but I have been to places that don't sell fountain drinks (bottles or cans only) that won't sell you a cup of tap water

        Most of the people that I've met who drink water from a bottle on the go (not at a meal) use a refillable container.

        Even then, how is it that you consider someone who makes frequent trips to a store to purchase water (much more frequently than it would take to purchase replacement filters) lazy? They are working harder than the person who buys a filter and drinks their own water (albeit not working "SMARTER").

        And as for this being unique to Americans... people over seas drink just as much if not MORE bottled water due to insufficient infrastructure. In those places it actually is safer and better tasting than tap/well water.

        February 25, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
      • PeopleAren'tThatSmart

        Bottled water in America only exists to make money off of a relatively inexpensive commodity. There is not benefit. Our grandparent's generation has survived just as long on an even less functional infrastructure, most of their life without bottled water.

        People that buy bottled water should save it for something worth investing in...retirement, college education, etc. Same goes for Starbucks and other material things that eat away at an individual's savings, but people would rather "fit" into society's expectation of what we consider middle class benefits.

        Now go buy that coffee on your way to go shopping for bottled water and then drive away in your Audi A4...the car the signals "I think I'm rich, but I can only afford Audi's entry level car."

        February 28, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • hjc

      You must be shopping at the airport because most of the rest of us know where to get bottled water for much less than $3.50+ retail.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:31 am | Reply
  16. Pedro Lopez

    Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting...

    February 25, 2013 at 10:46 am | Reply
  17. Jerry Okamura

    It is an outright lie. There is a whole ocean full of water. If push comes to shove, the world will put up desalination plants and figure out a way to transport the water to where it is needed.

    February 25, 2013 at 11:13 am | Reply
    • EVN

      @Jerry: To get salt water drinkable and safe for human consumption (down from 130 grams per gallon to 2 grams or under) requires either distillation, which uses substantial energy, or reverse osmosis which forces salt water through membrannes. Although reverse osmosis uses about 1/4 of the energy used in distillation, it still requires about 14 kwh of power per 1000 gallons. Our per kwh costs are between 5.8 and 6.5 cents (call it 6 cents), which makes 1000 gallons of desalinated water obtained through RO about 84 cents. Our current water prices are at about 12 cents per gallon. Yes you can desalinate sea water, but at the current time it is at a prohibitively high cost and works for small applications, and not for millions or even billions of gallons at a time.

      February 25, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Reply
      • Hadenuffyet

        A solar distiller can do it for literally nothing.

        February 25, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
      • jofish

        @Hadenuffyet Oh, I forgot that building, manning, and maintaining a plant costs literally nothing.

        February 26, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  18. sujhasconvergence

    well. it sounds like "water water everywhere and not a drop to drink."

    February 25, 2013 at 11:48 am | Reply
  19. Lynne

    "Research into more effective crops" is, indeed, needed and is happening, but it is threatened by irrational opposition to biotechnology and a perception that companies should not be allowed to earn money from their research investments and developments.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  20. timmaahhyy

    So lets start OWEC. and when we feel like we are not getting enough for our water we get together and slow production to boost the price. all is fair after all.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  21. The_Mick

    Don't just look overseas. EVERY year since the 90's the USA has had a severe shortage of water in a large section of the country. And what do we do about it? The Governor of Georgia asked the people to pray for rain and tried in vain to get the border with Tennessee re-drawn so Georgia would gain a river. No funding of research on cheap desalination or improved irrigation (which accounts for 75% of America's fresh water use) at Georgia Tech, etc. The population of the USA, a little over 300M now, will be between 600M and 900M by the end of this century – due to our ridiculous legal immigration policies – and we're not even prepared to provide resources for half of them!

    February 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • JFCanton

      We already know how to irrigate much more efficiently than we do: but we don't do it because it's expensive and water is still too cheap most of the time to make it worthwhile.

      I would agree that the places without reliable surface supplies (read: West and South) are going to be squeezed ever more if their populations continue to increase. But eventually that will raise the cost of living in those places so that their population *doesn't* continue to increase.

      February 25, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Reply
      • Ramjet

        One simple way to save water for irrigation:
        Run the water at night instead of in the daytime.
        Loss to evaporation is much lower due to no direct sun and lower temps.
        We did it all the time in New Mexico.
        To top that off, if you sprinkle water (The big rotating watering systems) on ground and crops that are hot, you actually steam them at first. It's less than helpful to the plant.

        February 25, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  22. JFCanton

    The US may "waste" a lot of water in a literal sense, but water is also limited in distribution to where it can flow by gravity: we're only going to spend so much to transport it. We have a lot of supply and our choices are made within the constraints of that supply, not within the constraints of what technology allows us to use.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
    • JT

      Not to mentoin that humans tend to congregate around water sources. I don't see why they can't move with the water sources. Sure, that's a lot to ask for, but it's easier than moving the water.

      February 25, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  23. Joe Mama

    I just saved a cup of water. Should I mail it to the middle east? Honestly though, wouldn't it be amusing if nations with plenty of water all got together and started selling water to the middle east at fixed prices? Full circle.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  24. joebob

    Conflict over water historically has been very prevalent – and will be again – further issues with aquifers drying up will cause further conflicts. Failure for countries to stop their current religious and ideological conflicts to do something about this will eventually take front stage. The will have to make this a priority.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  25. iceload9

    If this goes the way of other things, we will be asked to conserve (actually we are now) so Wall St. can ship the water halfway around the world and keep the profits.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  26. MuadDib

    We must develope stillsuits.

    February 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Reply
    • Stilgar

      Ah, those crafty Fremen!

      February 25, 2013 at 11:44 pm | Reply
      • Davy

        LOL it might be a reality some day to have those stillsuit like in that movie "" DUNE""

        February 26, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Duncan Idaho

      Paul, Have you built your Seitch?

      February 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  27. Joe

    Too many people is the problem. Humans are like 95% water– so each of us is walking around "storing" water inside us. All the bottled water, canned goods that use water– this is water that is taken out of the environment... stored away inside containers. All the agriculture to feed all of us... and 70% of all water use is agricultural.

    Listen, want to solve the worlds problems: Force each couple to have only one pregnancy, world-wide. After your one pregnancy, the father and the mother are sterilized. Over many generations, the population will halve and halve and more than halve... and get our population down to about 1 million people over many generations.

    The world will be absolutely beautiful again, and there will be plenty of resources for everyone... including the animals, trees, fish, etc.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Reply
    • hjc

      Force them eh?

      Glad you are not in charge Joe.

      February 26, 2013 at 2:26 am | Reply
  28. Bill

    Yes, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are world leaders in desalinization, but it comes at a vast cost in energy. Doing this at a large scale, particularly in agriculture, is not really feasible.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  29. JT

    "Singapore already treats sewage water to convert it into clean drinking water."

    As does virtually every US city not located on the ocean. Sure, we don't pipe it right back into the system but it's piped into a river that the next city downstream will use for drinking water.

    You also forgot to mention that Singapore imports more water from Malaysia than it reclaims.

    But don't get me wrong, they are on the right track. I'm just not sure how it really compares to the rest of the world that's not in the same situation. Don't forget that they are a tropical country and get 2x as much rainfall as the rest of the world on average... it's not like they are living in a desert like the ME.

    February 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  30. krishnapages

    2500 gallons of water + 17Kg of fodder to raise just 1 pound of beef. Guess how many hungry people we can serve with that much water and food.. But hey we want our meat and wonder "wheres my water"..

    February 25, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • Hadenuffyet

      But people don't really fare well on prairie grass and hay.

      February 25, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Reply
      • Ketan

        No, of course not, but wheat is a grass, so is rice, so are most cereals.......

        February 25, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • hjc

      you forgot one fact: cows are yummy!

      February 26, 2013 at 2:25 am | Reply
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