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Water: Waste, scarcity and pollution!

Water: Waste, scarcity and pollution!

By Dr. M. Sommer

The pressing need to cope with the geometric progression of freshwater demand in Latin America and the Caribbean has been terribly complicated as resources deteriorate at an ever-increasing rate.

The pressing need to cope with the geometric progression of freshwater demand in Latin America and the Caribbean has been terribly complicated as resources deteriorate at an ever-increasing rate.

* Latin America and the Caribbean is a basically humid continent, they have great fresh water resources in lakes and rivers. Average rainfall in the region is 60 percent higher than in the rest of the world. However, 25 percent of South American territories are arid or semi-arid, 20 percent of its inhabitants do not have access to drinking water, and 30 percent do not have an appropriate sanitation system. Surface runoff is 30 percent of the world total. Only 3 percent of the water that runs off is used in any way, and 8 percent of the runoff with hydroelectric potential is used. Only 7 percent of the cultivated land is irrigated, while 25 percent of the same land could be irrigated with known resources. There are significant underground water resources on the continent, but their quantity and location are largely unknown.

* Earth contains approximately 1.4 million cubic kilometers of water, but the remaining 97.4 percent is enclosed in ice caps and glaciers. Available fresh water is reduced to 0.001 percent of the total.

* In Latin America and the Caribbean, water consumption increased between 1990 and 2000 by 45 percent, from 150 to 216 cubic kilometers per year. The pressing need to cope with the geometric progression of freshwater demand in Latin America and the Caribbean will be further complicated if, as current trends indicate, the resource base is allowed to deteriorate at an ever-increasing rate.

* In the last 10 years, more changes have been made to water laws (in Latin America and the Caribbean) than in the entire last century. Goals are constantly being modified, personnel are changed or the institutions in charge of water MANAGEMENT are restructured.

* America requires institutional and social stability, a solid legal framework and a centralized authority open to the participation of water users, if it wants to overcome the current governance crisis of its water courses and achieve Sustainable Management.

* The lack of funds and the view that the State is by nature inefficient affects the administration of water resources in most American countries, deregulation was in turn deficient, because it was erroneously assumed that there would be competition in a sector that it tends to monopolization.

* Latin American cities deplete their aquifers that took centuries to fill. Salt water pollutes groundwater miles from the sea. In Mexico the water layers drop one meter a year. In a few decades, the world trying to get a fifth more water for 3 billion more people, one in three people may have problems, drinking or bathing. Some see our scarcity as a harbinger of trouble ahead.

* Water-related diseases could claim more than 76 million lives, many more than the global AIDS pandemic, if proper action is not taken.

The diversity of species and ecosystems within the freshwater biome in Latin America is remarkable. For example, three thousand species of fish live in the ecosystem of the Amazon basin. While the Amazon and Orinoco ecosystems are two of the most dominant and recognized elements of freshwater biodiversity in the Neotropics, the Latin American and Caribbean region contains a diverse range of freshwater communities and habitats. They also provide various benefits to society. Marshes, lakes and rivers are interrelated ecosystems that supply water to the region, prevent and regulate floods, prevent the intrusion of salt water, reduce the effects of erosion by maintaining sediments, retain nutritive substances and eliminate substances They are toxic, stabilize the microclimate, serve as a carbon sink for the world, serve as a means of transportation and are excellent tourist attractions.

Despite their critical importance, many freshwater ecosystems are often considered useless in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The widespread ignorance of its importance has contributed to this concept and has promoted the destruction and degradation of ecosystems. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the conservation of freshwater biological diversity has been seriously neglected and entire ecosystems are threatened with extinction. The primary cause of resource loss is habitat disturbance driven by rapid population growth and development trends, planned and unplanned. Erosion and deforestation of catchment forests has reached enormous intensity on the eastern slopes of the Andes, from Colombia to northern Argentina. Rural development (mostly for rice cultivation) is affecting marshes throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Pollution from mining and industry, the main water resources of Latin America are chemically and biologically contaminated to a considerable degree.

In most of the countries of the Latin American continent, water waste is not subordinate to the effects it may have on the environment, nor can it be modified to reduce a danger to the environment.

The land contains about 1.4 million cubic kilometers of water, but the remaining 97.4 percent is enclosed in ice caps and glaciers. Available fresh water is reduced to 0.001 percent of the total. Fresh water is a finite and essential resource to maintain life, to carry out productive activities from the economic point of view and for the environment itself. No poverty reduction strategy can ignore the vital human need for water, a very important fact in any analysis of the water-related challenges currently facing the American countries, as is also important the need for a Fair and sustainable management of this critical resource in the interest of society as a whole. Equally necessary for productive work and human health and dignity is deep environmental sanitation, an issue closely related to the supply of water.

The history of humanity is marked by innumerable technological conquests, by the progress of relationships between people and by the creative capacity of the human being to overcome each challenge. However, from prehistory to the present day, the development of civilizations has always evolved marked by one factor: the presence or absence of water. If it is present and in abundance, water represents the possibility of agricultural, social, industrial, sanitary and quality of life improvement. If the water resource is absent or scarce, it is a reason for poverty, wars, diseases and economic stagnation. Unfortunately, millions and millions of liters are wasted every day in activities that devalue water. Abuse in the use of water is not only a lack of awareness of the responsibilities of citizens to avoid waste, but a lack of respect for those who live in regions where water is not available for everyone. There are people who must live with less than 50 liters of water per day, while others use more than 500 liters per day.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, water consumption increased between 1990 and 2000 by 45 percent, from 150 to 216 cubic kilometers per year. The pressing need to cope with the geometric progression of freshwater demand in Latin America and the Caribbean has been terribly complicated as resources deteriorate at an ever-increasing rate. The response to this increase in demand has consisted in the construction of more and greater hydraulic works, especially reservoirs and river diversion channels. The number of large reservoirs, that is, those with a dam over 15 meters high, has increased dramatically around the world, from just over 5,000 in 1950 to about 38,000 today.

The pressing need to cope with the geometric progression of freshwater demand in Latin America and the Caribbean will be further complicated if, as current trends indicate, the resource base is allowed to deteriorate at an ever-increasing rate. Watershed deforestation, erosion, pollution, and groundwater depletion are among the main threats to freshwater supplies in the region. The environmental problems of subsistence economies are difficult to assess and control, and are too often ignored by development organizations. This highlights the need to consider that poverty and environmental degradation are closely related ecological and social processes that make it necessary to apply an integrated approach to their control and management.

To integrate the conservation of the freshwater ecosystem into a complete water resources management strategy in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is necessary to clearly understand the ecological, institutional and social characteristics of the region today, as well as to have a clear idea of the relevance and importance of the factors at play.

The formulation of a policy on the sustainable management of water resources should be based on the following principles:
1) For long-term sustainability, an ecosystem approach to managing water resources needs to be taken. An ecosystem approach is a management policy whereby water resources are part of functional systems (complete basins) in which the complex interrelationships between physical and biotic components are duly taken into account.
2) The management of freshwater resources should be implemented as part of the comprehensive approach to long-term planning and monitoring for the sustainable use of natural resources, including ecological, economic and social aspects (integrated management ).
3) A new balance must be struck between the growing trend towards privatization and globalization of the economy and the role of both civil society and the state in preventing the degradation of water resources.

Until recently, water was considered an unlimited resource for economic development and the only problem was to provide it where and when it was needed through appropriate engineering works. It was assumed that natural systems could produce abundant pure water and could also purify the wastewater that returned to them.

An ecosystem approach to water management requires knowledge of the water cycle, a complex process that includes precipitation, absorption, runoff, evapotranspiration, and infiltration over vast regions and over long periods. There cannot be Sustainability if all the phases of this cycle are not known and duly taken into account. For these purposes, it is necessary not only to ensure the efficient use and distribution of fresh water but also to safeguard the state of the catchment basin and groundwater (before consumption), as well as the treatment and proper disposal of water from disposal (after consumption). Unfortunately, however, this new concept has not been put into practice or institutionalized in Latin America and the Caribbean. On the contrary, management plans in the region continue to be formulated in order to increase the quality and quantity of the water supply and not to protect water ecosystems or ensure the sustainability of the hydrological cycle.

One of the basic problems in adopting an ecosystem approach to water management is that authorities and the general public still do not have a clear idea of ​​the magnitude and importance of the problems that can be expected if the trend continues. current to the deterioration of the environment. It is difficult for laymen and politicians alike to accept that there are limits to the use of natural resources and that decisions taken today can significantly affect development options in the future. As a consequence, both the private and public sectors continue to resist the idea of ​​"green accounting" of any kind, out of fear that it could affect economic growth (the false dichotomy between jobs and the environment). It is clear, however, that there is no possibility of reversing the current trend of resource degradation unless basic ecological functions are preserved. Therefore, and despite the evident pressure to meet pressing economic needs, the need to think and plan in the medium and long term is equally important. Otherwise, the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation will continue to accelerate.

Unfortunately, most of the development is currently unplanned. The region of Latin America and the Caribbean is full of examples of cases of exploitation and degradation of resources demanded by the lack of planning and compliance that may be repeated and multiplied in the near future. As hypothetical as it may sound today, there is no question of the urgent need for planning at the regional and global levels. Otherwise, unplanned growth will continue to culminate in widespread ecological, social and economic crises. Water scarcity is the most pressing problem of all. However, the concept of long-term planning, environmental monitoring and compliance at the regional, national and provincial levels, while its obvious necessity is generally accepted, is extremely difficult to put into practice for the following reasons:
# The lack of a political and institutional tradition.
# The fragmented management of water resources among government agencies and the lack of coordination at the provincial, national and international levels.
# The better capacity of government agencies to plan and implement sustainable development, related to the current trend to promote privatization and reduce the role of the state.

In the last fifteen years in Latin America there have been two fundamental changes, democratization and the reactivation of the private sector. Both force the state to give up a considerable part of power in shaping development processes, because privatization and globalization subtract development from state control. Virtually all countries have established special agencies for environmental protection and resource management. These organizations have their hands tied because their mandates are limited, their budgets are small, and because they have virtually no political weight. In the meantime, governments do not hold their powerful central economic and sectoral bodies responsible for the environmental consequences of their policies and expenditures. As a result, the balance of powers is not adequate. To resolve this contradiction, governments should hold their sectoral and central economic agencies accountable and accountable for policy-making and budgeting to promote development that is sustainable.

Unfortunately, widespread poverty and poor income distribution in the region limit the scope for grassroots political participation and tend to focus political action on immediate and local alleviation of poverty at the cost of sustainable resource use through long term. Furthermore, in economic adjustment and privatization, no greater attention has been paid to the social and environmental ramifications of markets not subject to regulation. The results in the wide variety of structural adjustment reforms in Latin America have been uneven and the poorest regions have in many cases had to pay a high price. If governments do not intervene or establish market incentives for the sustainable use of resources, private sector companies are exclusively interested in profitability and not sustainability. The rational use of water resources in the hands of the private sector requires the existence of institutions that deal effectively with the problems of quality and total use of water. Non-governmental organizations and local organizations have a very important monitoring and decision-making role.

Another water-related issue that must be addressed on a global scale is climate change. The expected intensification of the hydrological cycle, with changes in patterns of rainfall and evapotranspiration, has consequences on the living conditions of humanity and on the environment. According to the predictions of the models, the periodic and chronic shortages of water were accentuated, causing serious problems of access to water and significant migratory movements. Soil degradation, drought, and desertification are linked to lower levels of rivers, lakes and aquifers, which affect the quantity and quality of freshwater supply.

The challenge of providing water and sanitation to all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, now and in the future, requires a great effort and must be addressed in the broader context of an integrated management of water resources that is sustainable ( that includes, for example, the natural aspects of water resources systems, the uses of water in all sectors of the economy and for any purpose, the institutional framework for managing a finite resource, the spatial variation of resources and the demand and water pollution).

* Dr. Sommer
e-mail: [email protected]
ÖKOTECCUM
Germany

Specialist


Video: Pakistans City with No Water. Unreported World (January 2022).