The Uncomfortable Truth

The time has come for you to see
That love is something else you practise it to be
The line is long
For you and me
That leads us to the very debt of our hearts
We’re still on the surface deceiving ourselves…

The Uncomfortable Truth  by NNEKA

This is a reworked old post. I hope that it did not lose it’s ‘punch’ in 15 months while it gathered 2657 page views in Think About It Water . I am inspired by Somnath’s comment in my last post ‘ Eradicate Excess Wealth alongside Poverty ‘ where he suspected my content as hard core communism, almost Pol Potish.

Any suggestion about examining limits of personal wealth is decidedly unlikable. Pol Pot is a fair measure of such distaste. Possibly communism as well.

But at least I can place a perspective. Wealth is not money in bank – it’s the power of consuming common resources depriving others. I shall take water as one such resource.

Water divides world into two compartments.

  1. Ones who do not need introduction to water scarcity, water related diseases, ones who have no or restricted access to water, no or almost non-existent sanitation, ones who live and perish through droughts and famines. Ones who do not need any awareness programs, media campaigns or blogs to know how life is without clean, safe, free and adequate water. They are poor, marginalized and exploited.

  2. Ones who are still enjoying the gift of water, can still demand, buy, negotiate or win useful water to live with some degree of comfort. Some of them somewhat understand the value of water, remain informed about increasing water scarcity, water stress, feel bad about it and wish to do something about it. That something may be turning off the running faucet during brushing of teeth or can be debating about it, talking, exchanging, knowing the impacts of living in a world of lesser and lesser water, more and more water bills, becoming aware about the strife and indifference around water and dream about influencing the world, country, city, village or neighborhoods to be sustainable with water. Some of them do not want go beyond turning of the faucet, where as some look for activism and bring about a change fast and immediate.

Only you know which compartment you are in.

The official dogma about water crisis is it’s increasing scarcity. The scarcity of safe, clean and free water within easy reach of all people on earth, which is enshrined in MDG 7C: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The task, as per is: “One billion people lack access to safe drinking water, 2.4 billion to adequate sanitation. To achieve this target, an additional 1.5 billion people will require access to some form of improved water supply by 2015, that is an additional 100 million people each year (or 274,000/day) until 2015.”

I find one thing very interesting. Of the 8 MDGs, Environmental Sustainability (clean and drinkable water being a part of that goal) figures at 7. If the order of goals is indicative of priorities, that’s where you are.

I am very confused about how poverty eradication (Goal 1) is achievable before developing global partnership for development (Goal 8), or how primary education can be universalized (Goal 2) for a child who accompanies her mother to fetch water from couple of miles away on a daily basis (Goal 7).

This world is too smart for me because there is constant reference to people living with $2 per day (presumably $2 per day is the poverty line) but there is no talk at UN about people living with 600 liters per day. Is that too touchy an issue? Personally I do not feel like jumping with joy if in 2015 half of world population gets safe drinking water while that absurdly high personal consumption of water continues at any corner of the world. I constantly wonder why there cannot be an MDG of eradication of absurd wealth.

The unofficial truth about water is its forced asymmetry of use over the globe. There is occasional admission of it but no international management plan. I constantly come across people who feel guilty about using so much water as Internet flashes pictures of scorched lands and thirsty, hungry faces. But that guilt appears to be too personal for one to go beyond considering closing of faucet during brushing of teeth.

…whereas to truly combat the emerging or existing global water crisis on an international level and in the context of industry, agriculture and climate change, there is little a private person or household can do right now which will help on that level. That requires fighting battles on much bigger and broader scales. Boycotts of foods and products, boycotts of companies, boycotts of cities, countries, sporting events, concerts, and that is just the beginning. Changing of lifestyles, eating habits, living habits, and so much more. This can also be taken to extremes. I personally, do not feel that I am ready to go to these extremes.” Cfender, commented on the blog post “ Exercise 2: How much are you wasting without knowing it ?” by fellow blogger Mamen Salas Burquete.

I can understand Cfender’s point. Will an Ethiopian child understand it?  To her it may sound like too personal resolution of a water rich person to avoid a personal guilt trip, like say, I have done my bit and I can now go about my business (gosh those developing country pictures of kids…). To a proud water stressed Cypriot it may sound like a charity.

The official truth about water is the Water-Energy-Climate Change Nexus and our unwillingness to get to the bottom of it. We will never understand or appreciate it if our contributions remain limited to saving daily use of water. While 600 liters a day sounds like extreme luxury to 1 billion people of the world, saving half of it will not set right the stark disparity of water and that’s an uncomfortable truth.

The water disparity is much more than drinking and sanitation water. Water is deeply connected to every aspect of our growth or lack of it.

  1. Food grains: The irrigated agriculture is extremely water intensive.
  2. Meat: The index of affluence and a regular diet of the developed world is very water intensive.
  3. Clothes: The jeans with which the west is obsessed and the rich east is coming close on heels are destroying whole rivers of China.

I cannot take anyone as serious about contributing for water balance if he/she prefers not to think about these uncomfortable truths just because the water involved is virtual .

The whole discourse boils down to some much known pattern of resource exploitation in the growth obsessed world. Water is ultimately connected to Energy in a nexus of overuse and abuse. All forms of traditional energy exchanges are linked with use of water, be it cooling plants, water extraction, purification, supply, distribution, storing, pumping, waste water treatment, power plants, irrigation, desalination.  In a world where demand of energy is steadily increasing, water demand is also increasing steadily. If I equate the energy consumption by an individual how can it escape the water involved in the process? How can a society of 18,000 watts per year per capita expect to contribute in saving water by closing a water faucet?

The third axis of Water Energy nexus is Climate Change. The more energy production the more green house gas and more Climate Change.

On a personal level a contribution towards water saving will therefore mean a radical change of life style with less purchase of goods, less meat on plate and less energy consumption. And that is anti-growth, or at least traditional concept of growth. If this appears extreme to anyone and not relatable to daily life, you can kiss goodbye to water in a 9 Billion people world.

The idea of eradicating poverty without radically rethinking ethical and sustainable personal wealth is a pipe dream. Earth simply does not have enough resources to support 1 % super rich and 99% happy middle class.

I have not spoken about food, health and housing at all.

If this sounds like hard core communism or Pol Pot-ish, my friend Somnath will need to talk to Elinor Ostrom


  • Water is becoming more and more of a problem, even in the United States. We have an abundance of water here in Oklahoma, but even then we have problems as the chicken farms in Arkansas are polluting the water that flows into the state. Last year we had some lakes that were closed because of a toxic blue-green algae that bloomed. Oklahoma is suing Arkansas to stop the pollution, and Texas is suing Oklahoma because they want some of our water to keep the grass in their suburbs green, and Native Americans are suing the city of Oklahoma City for taking water from lakes that they have rights to from treaties. Though these matters can be settled by lawsuits eventually, what will happen what one country and its neighbor cannot agree on who owns the water that flows into it?

    Although irrigation has allowed us to increase our agricultural production, the water tables have dropped as much as 100 feet in some places and people have had to drill deeper and deeper to get water. We are depleting the aquifers much faster than they can be filled. That is not likely to get better as the Pearson drought index shows that since 1980, drought conditions have been growing more and more severe in the areas of the world where food crops are grown.

    As a friend of mine who is an economist says ” We will never run out of a resource, it will just become more and more expensive.” That of course means that the wealthy will be able to buy the resource but those with less money will have to do without. Although it is true that there is always been wealth and poverty, it seems that we are now moving in the wrong direction as the rich seem to be becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. Much of it is because of overpopulation which lies at the root of most of the other problems, though greed and selfishness are certainly contributing factors.

  • Reading the above literally makes my head swim faster than a fresh water fish..first of all, we have been compartmentalised .. secondly irrigated agriculture takes too much water ( how many people will starve to death very very fast without it is not dwelt upon) .. meat is not good ( maybe , I understand this ,alos agree to certain degree but someone who likes and digs deep into a beef steak occasionally may not, heh heh) , but stop wearing jeans ?? How audacious !!! Unthinkable !! What is you son going to say ? Isnt it upto the chinese whether they kill ALL those rivers that nourish them for a fistful of dollars ??
    Anyhow, Arvind Mills of India are the largest jeans manufacturer of jeans in the world and thank god THEY are not killing any rivers despite supplying Levis, Wranglers , Lee and a host of other jean makers.
    Poverty always remained throughout history the etarnal story of haves and have-nots go on. There will never be any end to it. Look around you.

    • Problem is, Somnath, you keep walking on the line with serious intent on one side and comedy on the other. It is difficult to engage such fence-walkers.
      I shall invite you to check the manufacturing process of a pair or jeans, particularly the ones with ‘worn’ look and you buy in high-end shopping malls. When your son will buy water for drinking he may not find it as funny as you did.
      I have been looking around, trust me. What I see is that poverty is certainly decreasing, in stats and in observable reality – but the gap between rich and poor is still increasing (I hope you will not cite medieval societies). And most strikingly it is widening faster and deeper in so called rich countries.
      Paper money is nothing, it is the promise it carries with it that is important. This promise is that you can turn up before people and Government with it and buy resources that are meant to be shared by everybody.
      Your fun may be very short lived.

  • I have to think about this .far as I remember the issue I was commenting on was dealing with how much one should be allowed to own and now this one deals with water ,gas , fuel and climate change !!! I have to grasp the connection first…


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