Nathan Gray: Water Wars – A Nuclear Travesty
Water Wars – A Nuclear Travesty
By Nathan Hoturoa Gray
"Evolution made civilisation steward of the planet. A hundred thousand years later, the steward stood before evolution not helper but destroyer, not healer but parasite. So evolution withdrew its gift, passed civilisation by, rescued the planet from intelligence and handed it to love."
- Richard Bach (One)
A sonic boom pierces my ears as a military jet screams overhead towards Pakistan.
I'm in the Indian state of Rajasthan, about 73 kilometres from the Pakistan border, staying in a 900 year-old palace fort with ancient temples and army troops all around.
Jaisalmer, a popular tourist destination is renowned for its elaborately designed architecture and is home to several thousand inhabitants. This ancient palace is very much alive. Dodging rickshaws and cows it’s easy to lose your way amongst the labyrinth of laundry-lined cobbled streets and the market buzz of the Indian bazaars.
Dubbed the 'golden city', the fortress is intricately crafted from honey-coloured stone ramparts. Thrusting heavenwards from a barren desert landscape, the fort blazes like a giant beacon during sunrise and sunset. The fortress ramparts provide a stunning view…
A small village lies on the outskirts of the fort. The inhabitants, it seems, live as they have since the natural oasis that sustains them was first discovered over a millennium ago. On the village peripheries lie a splattering of withering trees, but these soon fade into the heated haze of the Great Thar Desert. Golden sands stretch as far as the eye can see.
150 kilometres further out, well beyond the curve of the horizon, lies a spot where the Indian government tested its first nuclear weapon in 1998.
Its probably just coincidence, but ever since, the monsoon rains have been on strike.
Desert local Bernat Nathu says the test was an unnecessary level of response to Pakistan's nuclear testing on the other side of the border in 1997, but the Indian government wanted to make a showing of its strength. Indeed, it must have been impressive. This drought has now been plaguing the entire western Indian continent for over six years.
The Indian government states the tests were conducted underground, entirely safe for the desert population that exists around the restricted nuclear testing zone. Yet arriving at the township of Judaspregar, seven kilometres from where the restricted zone begins, the scene looks decidedly grim. The water in the area has a green and blue acrid colouring, and the whole place reeks of sulphur. Despite being over 40 degrees this particular day, the harsh desert winds dehydrating the body as if turned upon by a giant hair drier, no one was getting close to this particular water supply. Not even the cows.
Without thinking, I purchased an Indian sweet made from cow's milk. The food went right through my digestive system within five minutes. Something very unpleasant resided in that sweet that my body immediately rejected.
I struck up a conversation with a young Indian army recruit. Despite the language barrier, (relating initially through the impressive array of cricketing batting strokes mastered by the Cricket Captain and Modern Day Saint of all India: Slashin’ Sachin Tendulkur), I was told that the tests were not conducted underground as the Indian government would have us to believe.
In answer to the nuclear weapons testing question, the army recruit, shaved head and moustache, pointed to the sun. He then manoeuvred his hands showing the size of the explosion and pointed to my sunglasses to express the soreness of his eyes. Although rushed back onto the bus by a government official at that stage with no chance to see the actual testing site, two other locals on the bus concurred with the army recruit’s story.
Indeed the nukes, on a technical level, were tested underground. That is, I was told, they were set off in a gigantic open pit.
It is certainly only one theory that the nuclear testing here in the desert is the primary cause of the drought plaguing the entire North-Western Indian Continent. Global Climate change or even the wrath of the gods seem a lot more plausible when you consider how deforestation has also extended this drought through most of Northern China and Mongolia for the past ten years.
However, the scene was a firm reminder of the potential threat entailed by the mere existence of such weapons. Even if today's responsible governments were to learn from the Japanese experience in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, never again utilising such weapons in a war that everyone would essentially lose, there are still massive risks and consequences involved with just testing.
Furthermore, in a world where corporations constitute 51 of the top 100 economies; (national governments now primarily just another competitor in today's evolving capitalistic system), who's to say that these affluent multi-national entities can't now get their hands on such weapons?
According to writer William Dalrymple, acclaimed Central Asian foreign correspondent, it is only a matter of time before Pakistan, the world's major arms-purchase supermarket, is likely to receive nuclear missiles pawned down from Russia thus making them available to private interests.
Part Two: Water Wars
"Yin Shui Si Yuan"
"While drinking water, remember the source."
- Ancient Chinese Saying
Throughout July and August, North West India should be lush and green, farmers tending their crops, providing fodder for their cows as rain deluges the provinces. Yet during the 12 hour bus ride to Jaisalmer, all that is visible is acre after acre of sun-baked mud. Occasionally there's a splattering of green where half-grown crops lie wilting, but mostly there's nothing but ankle high dried stubble to show where farmers have planted their seeds.
6 years now without rain, the worst drought in decades and the Western Indian Continent is littered with the rotting carcasses of dead cows and other beasts. Apart from thorny brush and the occasional twiggy tree, there is pretty much nothing for the animals to eat. Bony cows walk the dusty streets of Jaisalmer fortress raiding rubbish bins and chewing mournfully on cardboard and plastic wrappings.
There is no sign of human death. Not yet. Humans are in the fortunate position of controlling what water resources remain. - Although, the latest heat wave in India has killed more than a1000 people. (Significantly more than the 770 victims the ‘economically crippling’ SARS virus has claimed despite all the International Coverage it received.)
Local Indian newspapers showing photos of hordes of Indians lining up to secure water from wells report that the underground wells are drying up significantly. In Udaipur, made famous for James Bond's heroic underwater dive in the movie Octopussi, the stalwart James attempts to seduce his latest lust residing in the Lake Palace Hotel that lies in the middle of the lake. Today lake Pichola has now almost completely disappeared. 007 can now pamper to his horny loins by simply scampering across the mud.
The same goes for China, where dam levels are dropping almost 1.5 metres a year. I saw a photo of a Chinese friend who walked a section of the Great Wall last year which had been dammed. Only the top of a watch tower was visible. One year later when I came strolling along, the entire tower was now visible, a water level drop of approximately 4 metres.
Wang Wui Ching, area economic and environmental developmental government official of Tianjin Province states that their wells are completely dried up. "We used to drill down ten metres to find water. Now we have to go down to 40 metres, 150 metres in the mountains."
If the rains don't come over the next few years, it is predicted that human carcasses will also line these arid lands. Although possibly an attempt to gain press attention for their plight, farmers in the drought stricken state of Gurjarat are already contemplating mass-suicide because of the severity of the situation.
They may not be exaggerating.
The latest UN report shows that now some 1.2 billion people lack access to clean water, twice that number have no sanitation, and most of the world will not have enough water within 30 years.
The report also states that in 1996, humanity used about 54% of all the accessible freshwater, 26 countries suffering from severe water shortage. These include most of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, the Western United States, South America, nearly all of Australia, and China where 400 of its 600 northern cities face severe water shortages.
This is conservatively projected to climb to at least 70% by 2025, (or 65 countries). An estimate that reflects population growth alone but will be much worse if per capita consumption rises at its current pace.
“To the starving man God can only appear in the form of bread.
- Mahatma Ghandi
It’s not just the water either. In India, food prices have risen at least 25% because of the droughts, and farmers are also forced to sell their cows at only 15% normal value to get by through the upcoming winter. Tough times indeed for the 2 billion of our world population that survives on less than $2 US a day.
Furthermore, scarce water tends to flow to the rich so people in rural areas often have to cede supplies to cities. In the smaller desert villages water only runs for two hours a day, whilst the city gets at least 8 hours. Indian Local Jonasu Vindupati says "no water flow, no business."
(Take also the American city of Las Vegas. Water there literally runs up hill to the money. Wells are piped from all over Arizona and Nevada to supply the extravagant casino strip waterfalls which lies smack bang in the middle of the desert.)
Indeed, with no possibility for farming work, it is a common sight to see the desert locals of Jaisalmer seeking shelter from the intense desert heat with nothing to do but look pensively out into the horizon. Despite their hopes and prayers, although a few wispy clouds are sometimes visible out in the horizon, no monsoon cloud ever manifests and by morning the sky is again ominously clear and blue. The Indian God, Shiva, again absent to help these drought stricken people...
Some farmers actually hope that it will not rain. This means the federal government of India will have to make a pay-out. However, farmers in the most need are lucky to receive such aid. Most Federal Aid money is pocketed by corrupt State government officials.
I look to this bleak situation and can't help wondering whether much of this millennium's wars will be fought over water.
Initially, no doubt (looking outside probably the majority of office or home windows this winter and seeing the view shrouded in rain), this seems a ludicrous suggestion. Most of us reading can simply jump off the computer, go to a tap, turn it on and whammo...H20, flowing away at full bore, free and easy. No need to go out and purchase an M 16 or mortar to protect your limited stake or claim.
However for the majority of the planet, everyone
has to collect their water in buckets from wells and
transport it, from a distance ranging between 100 metres to
10 km. In China it is taken to a giant urn, about five feet
high, placed in the kitchen. Water
collection is a daily discipline based on pure necessity, the first thing done upon waking.
Undertaking the daily water collection - a large stick over the shoulders balancing two water buckets, one quickly comes to appreciate each drop of this 'valuable life essence' during the long trek homewards. - Or, as the US attorney's coin it: 'blue liquid gold'.- (Law suits have already occurred in Montana and Idaho over farmer's conflicting ownership rights to clouds.)
But, if you're still not convinced, let's take a look at the water crises occurring on the planet at this very moment.
1) The constant struggle in the Middle East also involves conflict over international legal water rights and supremacy of the Sea of Galilei water supply at the base of the Jordan River. (It’s not just about oil folks...)
2) The Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India originating since the partition in 1947 is very much about water. The partition, otherwise known as the Radcliffe line was named after the English official who drew it up. Naturally he had never actually visited the area. The partition put the headwaters and the control works of the Himalayan canals in Indian territory which literally gave them capacity to shut off the water flow to Pakistan. A horrifying situation. (Fortunately this has been subsequently rectified by the World Bank instigated negotiations amounting to the Indus Treaty.)
3) The Chinese government have been plundering resources, and have gained overall control of the main central Himalayan water routes of the Tibetan Plateau, in what they have unscrupulously labelled the "Peaceful Liberation of Tibet." The government has also been dumping nuclear waste into the Holy Lakes which feed many of the rivers heading into China.
4) Iraq and Syria are getting testy over Turkey's plan to
build 22 dams along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers:
their main water source. Twenty-two dams can
give you the ability to hold back a lot of water and shovel it onto your own farmlands which makes for quite a volatile situation - although as yet it hasn't erupted.
5) In Canada, where many of the United States rivers are sourced, many treaties have been implemented to ensure that this water runs unimpeded. However, there is political pressure in Canada to start charging the United States for access to this water in light of privatisation of water supplies.
The world-wide water industry is expected to become a
trillion-dollar-a-year operation within a decade. There
will be few countries that do not need to invest
many billions of dollars over the next 20 years to improve their water and waste services while addressing water shortages. It is doubly hard for the poorer countries to raise the money to buy the technology required.
The only choice that many countries have is to privatise their supplies. A politically and culturally contentious route to take in countries where people use little and have long believed that water is not a commodity from which anyone should profit. (In Auckland, where some water supplies have been taken out of the hands of the regional council and put in private hands – water bills for larger families have increased $1200 to $2000 per annum.)
Coke and Pepsi have
already muscled in on the water bottling companies in India.
I did a double take when seeing the groovy "Coca Cola"
displayed triumphantly on the transparent water bottles. The thought of these massive multinational companies establishing a corporate monopoly over our
life essence of water; a decidedly bleak prospect to say the least.
7) The Ganges river in India now has 0% oxygen at Varanassi it is so polluted. Sanitation is the major factor resulting in water deprivation for the planet's most populated countries. (Sanitized water is predicted to run out in most parts of Africa within the next 50 years along with its last remaining glacier on Kilamanjaro by 2025.)
8) The Chinese government is building the controversial Three Gorges dam to divert water from the Yangzi river to prevent desertification and provide water relief for the overflowing population of Northern China. Such dams are causing increasing levels of social discontent and unrest. People are forced off the land and into refugee camps or slums in the cities. The respective governments provide no compensatory redress or alternatives to make a viable living for the evicted inhabitants.(As an aside, were the Yangzi river dam to burst, - which is a possibility considering the pace with which the Chinese are building it and the problems they have been having with the cement, it would cause a flood that could kill over 300 million residing in East, South Eastern China.)
9) Libya draws hundreds of millions of litres of water per week from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer which lies beneath the sands of Libya, Egypt, Chad, and Sudan pumping it 3,200 kilometres north through subway-tunnel sized pipes to Tripoli. Like the dam issues however, this has the other countries wondering whether they will have a chance to get their share. The lake is a remnant from rains from 10,000 years ago, when the Sahara was green and lush, but only scant amounts are annually replenished in the current climate. Once these deposits are gone that is it.
Given how the world greedily and violently reacts to the hunt for oil profits, one can only guess as to how worse this will become when the water crisis hits; as aptly phrased in the Life of Pi:
“It is said that the hunger for air exceeds as a compelling sensation the thirst for water. Yet this is only momentarily as you soon die and the discomfort of asphyxiation goes away. Thirst is an elongated – drawn out affair. A living hell of putrid dry parchedness – the taste of sick – and unbearable pressure at the back of the throat. Dry body – dehydrated to the state of weakness and even peeling…”
Part Three: Predictions
“The disappearance of our planet is still 7.5 billion years away, but people should really consider the fate of our world.”
- Donald Brownlee
Mayan calender, which terminates Dec 21, 2012 says that the
planet will be entering into the fifth age. I take this to
mean that the planet will be turning five
When the planet turned three an asteroid smashed into the planet annihilating almost every species including the Dinosaurs during the Mesozonic/Cretaceous age.
When it turned four, the Cenozoic Age, and the beginning of humanity, the planet was struck with the hugest ice age melt ever recorded, known in most cultures as the "Great Flood." (i.e. Noah's Arc.)
In India they say that the blue god Shiva opened his third eye, causing cataclysmic destruction deemed worthy upon the beings inhabiting the planet at the time. Shiva only reshut the eye when his wife begged him to close it. Indians also believe that the next time this happens, it will be the Age of Khali. Otherwise known as Armageddon.
The fifth age was called by the ancient Mayan civilisation as "the Age of Fire". This can be construed in many ways and has been done so by many.
Firstly, in line with the earlier section of this missive, there is the threat of nuclear warfare, which, understandably, could put our planet on 'fire'.
Other theories include another potential asteroid strike.
An astronomer in Pisa, Italy, Rafaella Tonnicelli calculates a minute chance of there being such an asteroid strike in 2012. She said that the probabilities are small, but enough to actually take some notice of.
My personal take on the "Age of fire" is the water issue.
We will simply get to a stage in some
places on the planet where it will be impossible to QUENCH
OUR THIRST. Humanity for now is safe, for we have
over the remaining water resources. Yet were the droughts to continue in these affected areas for the next ten years, (as was the case in 1877 during the worst ever recorded el nino drought killing 13 million Chinese and 6 million Indians), its seems likely that human carcasses will join those other less fortunate species that now fertilize the desert sands.
Ahhhh...I can see it all now: A praying mantis type creature making a Future News Broadcast to the species of the Post-Cenozoic period 3500 AD
"The last remaining specimen of the homosapien species, otherwise known as the 'human being' died quietly in its cage today. The death put a decidedly lack-lustre ending to one of the most ruthlessly dominating parasites to reside on quadrant earth... In other news...long legs Sally has signed a three-million husband contract to star in her latest film "When Skinny met Fatty."
I doubt it though. Our species is still young, and has plenty of capacity to learn from the unavoidable errors made during its formative years. Indeed we still have a good opportunity to rectify things so that the environment we live in will be considerably better than the one we subject ourselves to today.
The question is when, and how?
Part Four: Possible Solutions
“The chances of possessing planetary conditions that harbour life through the precise molecular mix to sustain the liquid components of water instead of a gas based structure or multitude of non life supporting agents is about 1 in 7 billion. That’s like winning the lottery 6 times in a row.”
- Duncan Smith (Conservation Biologist, UK)
1) Give up now. Enforce world-wide mass suicide nuclear warfare so as to pave the way for the next species that decides to actually address these issues?
2) Internationally enforce the one child policy, in particular in India? (India are contemplating the two child policy at this stage.) After 200,000 years of evolution in 1800 the planet hit 1 billion humans. In 2000, the planet reached 6 billion – the last 3 billion doubling in only 40 years.
3) International law laid out to enforce each family of this world to plant at least one tree each year on the outskirts of their village. (Deforestation is a major cause of drought and desertification). As the years pass, even in the driest desert lands the oases should support one new ring of trees a year, which in the long run should attract more rain to produce the water to sustain the next ring the following year.
(Growing for our children.)
4) Strategic land purchases in places like the Amazon rain forest to block the tractors of deforestation companies.
5) Education of water conservation, re-use and management:
E.G. Whilst the cows are starving, carcasses lining the desert, a hapless Indian man is seen with a hose washing the desert dust off his truck.
E.G. Bars and restaurants using plastic cups and paper plates to save on water waste with dishes in places of water shortage.
E.G. When you are thirsty you DON'T actually need to guzzle down a litre of water as most of us generally have the capacity to do. The body can be sustained with just small sips at regular intervals. (This is how nomads make journeys across deserts.)
E.G. People can decanter their water through two saris to sanitize it for drinking.
E.G. Change our thinking to prevent industrial pollution and the two million tons of human waste that are spilled into fresh water courses everyday. (Especially important considering the 15 year prediction that urban populations will outnumber rural populations causing big water supply problems for impoverished high density urban settings.
E.G Addressing huge, wasteful irrigation and hydroelectric projects plus evaporation and pipe leakage. About 70% of the fresh water used today is earmarked for irrigation. ( The top of the Wanganui river in New Zealand is now empty due to its hydroelectric programme.)
Community water awareness meetings. Giving you a sound
legal defence for 'peeping' on your neighbour as you were
just 'checking whether they have turned their
sprinkler off after ten o'clock in the evening.' (This, I’m told works really well in Kapiti.)
6) Sea water desalination plants. - (Presently expensive and requires immense amounts of energy - although it is said that the price may soon be dropping.)
7) Exporting water in giant oil tankers. (A Canadian firm is already doing this from the Arctic and scientists are presently developing mile-long plastic water bags which they aim to tow across the world from water-rich to water-poor countries.
8) Building forests of plastic palm trees to catch early-morning evaporation.
9) Underground lake aquifer drilling. Massive lakes exist underneath the surface of the planet which span many countries and contain high quality water. Libya draws hundreds of millions of litres of water per week from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer which lies beneath the sands of Libya, Egypt, Chad, and Sudan pumping it 3,200 kilometres north through subway-tunnel sized pipes to Tripoli. Like the dam issues however, this has the other countries wondering whether they will have a chance to get their share. The lake is a remnant from rains from 10,000 years ago, when the Sahara was green and lush, but only scant amounts are annually replenished in the current climate.
10) Sewerage outlet changes. In Mexico City, the world’s biggest city, there is already not enough water to cover sewerage problems. Alternative methods have to be found to sweep away all the shit.
11) A giant egg beater to stir up the oceans and accelerate the process of evaporation.
Or anything to keep the locals peasants of Jaisalmer from looking forlornly out into the bleak desert haze.
Open to any suggestions, especially comments pertaining to areas overseas and in New Zealand where you are aware of major water shortage: