Agua... agua... agua...
On a very old Sesame Street skit (back from when I was a child, when we also walked miles in the snow to get to school), they tried to teach kids the word for "water" in Spanish by having a guy walking around, desperately searching for water, always asking for "agua" - and never managing to get any. Coming in from the desert, there's a drinking fountain... but even the drinking fountain and water faucet were dry. I watched Sesame Street a lot as a kid (it taught me much of my English, and clearly some Spanish too), and while I can still re-enact some of the muppet-based skits, I was usually bored by the real-people-without-muppets stuff. But this skit I remember; I've remembered it for about three decades, because it was just so awful. The poor guy was thirsty - I got the impression he was about to die of thirst - and there was no agua to be found, anywhere.
I mention this because, in a few decades, that guy is going to be us. In some places in the world, that guy already is us.
Salon ran an interview today with Fred Pearce, a British science journalist who's just written a book on water. Read the whole interview
if you can -- you need to click through an ad, but it is worth it:
Pearce, a longtime editor for New Scientist, who is now an environmental consultant for the magazine, calculates that it takes 40 gallons of water to grow the ingredients for the bread in a single sandwich, not to mention 265 gallons to produce a glass of milk and 800 gallons for a hamburger. And that's just what's for lunch. Don't get him started on what you wear to this water-rich feast. Even a simple cotton T-shirt bearing some hopeful green slogan like "Save the Bay" is a huge water user. Pearce figures it takes 25 bathtubs-full of water to grow the scant 9 ounces of cotton for such a shirt.While some people say that oil is the big issue that the world needs to deal with. I think it's going to be all about the agua. The water crisis has already started - the Aral Sea disappeared, the Dead Sea is shrinking, and everyone wants to get in on everyone else's rivers - and it's not getting any better anytime soon. The thing that astonished me about Pearce is that he is nevertheless an optimist, and that's as good a reason as any for you to go read the whole article. (And the book sounds like a fascinating read too.)
On the West Bank...the Israelis and the Palestinians are almost as much in conflict over water as they are over land. The Palestinians are very angry that they are not allowed to sink more wells and drill more boreholes on the West Bank region, because the Israelis say that the water is already fully used, when most of that water is in fact used by Israelis not only in their settlements, but also in Israel proper.
While we often see water as a kind of free resource, provided by nature, once it gets in short supply the powerful do have an ability to grab hold and keep water -- whether behind dams, or by sticking pumps into the ground. We haven't quite reached the situation where water wars are breaking out, but we're getting quite close in some parts of the world.