Water is likely to be cause of future conflicts, so let’s discuss its use now

By: WAGA ODONGO

It shows the level of our self-regard as humans to call the third planet from the sun “Earth”. Three quarters of the planet’s surface is covered by water, and therefore, inaccessible to us, yet we still emphasise the land bit.

Water never leaves the planet; there is about as much out there now as there was in the beginning. On a wet planet, you cannot be short of water; we are just short of unsalted water where we need it. Today there is water everywhere, but it is getting harder to get a drop to drink.

The greatest amount of fresh water on the planet is locked up in Antarctic glaciers and the paradox is that if we attempt to acquire it, we will have to build our coastal cities on stilts.

Humanity continues to gather in cities, many of which are coastal, yet piping in fresh water is getting harder.

Water, I fear, will be the cause of future conflicts. In the US, some states are imposing restrictions on water use for the first time due to multi-year droughts.

In Brazil, the droughts are so bad that they have power cuts because much of their electricity comes from hydroelectric power.

The worst hit continent is Asia. On the Indian sub-continent, the Indus River that feeds Pakistan, recently named the most water-stressed country on earth, originates in India. Pakistan accuses India of diverting water. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the Mumbai bombings, has repeatedly accused India of “water terrorism.” Meanwhile, India keeps building dams in Kashmir, which Pakistan claims is its territory.

Part of the problem is that rice, the most popular form of starch on earth, is grown using flood waters. When your planet is parched, perhaps it is time to consider changing your diet to include less thirsty crops.

CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, regularly features the large water projects in China, some of which are of such large scale that it forces the people doing the voice-overs to consult their thesauruses for new superlatives. China has more dams than any other country and is building the world’s largest water diversion to slake the thirst in the north of the country.

Closer home, Ethiopia is damming up the River Omo, to the detriment of Lake Turkana. This is particularly worrying because Turkana is a desert.

EXPORTING WATER

I was in Kiambu recently, looking at the area that will house the proposed Rwabura Irrigation Scheme. There the locals were up in arms at the possibility of losing their farms to dams so that people downstream could water their farms.

“Why should we lose our land so that others can use of theirs?” I was constantly asked.

Lake Naivasha is dying as it is slowly having its waters exported to Europe through horticulture. Plants are up to 70 per cent water and it worries me how a water-poor nation is so callously exporting so much water to secure, water-rich countries. In 50 years, as the planet warms, Europe will have even more water than it does now, and we will have less water than ever. Whatever is left of the lake is being systematically being poisoned by toxins from the greenhouses nearby. The lake now has to be artificially restocked with fingerlings.

Kenya is also along the band that will lose out as the globe gets warmer, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as more temperate lands will get water at our expense. Our position as a country will be more perilous as the droughts grow longer and rains shorter and become more erratic.

Water remains a global issue, with major lakes and rivers serving as geographical markers. Most of our fresh water reserves lie across several borders and lack clear agreements on use. In Kenya, whenever anyone with something larger than a jerry can approaches Lake Victoria, an alarm goes off in Cairo. Turkana is a problem where a country where water originates (Ethiopia) refuses to let it pass through its borders. How do you even begin negotiating in such a dispute?

Water is a matter whose rights must be addressed at transnational levels.

The problem is that we can be sure that the worst of the water crunch can be passed on to the next generation. Mombasa will not go under in our lifetime. We must be ready to tackle this challenge that will extend more than a few years into the future across several administrations.

Water remains a national resource away from the grasp of county governments, but surely, it only makes sense if water-rich counties are compensated by their thirstier counterparts’ usage. After all, the dams that will hold the bulk of the water before transmission will be in the water-rich areas, and they will get all the negatives.

Also, water seems too cheap. If you do the maths, you will find that it costs very little to fill up an Olympic-size swimming pool with water, courtesy of the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company. It is unfortunate that we do not accord this precious resource enough importance. The prices do not climb steeply enough for industrial users to take into account the costs of building more infrastructure to support the system.

Also, farmers, who have in most cases near-universal independence on what to grow and keep will be forced to pay more for the right. Farmers cannot be allowed a buccaneering spirit to grow flowers for export and remove billions of litres of water from our corner of the biosphere.

Very soon we will have to have a transnational discussion on water use. It is an existential issue which will threaten the poor South as it enriches the richer North. It might seem distant now, but it will be solved with big projects that imperil the environment and for many countries in regions that will face shortages, it will be a life-and-death issue.

It will get too hot and too dry for us very soon, and we must be ready.

GINIWASEKAO

Gor’s unbeaten streak is great cause for concern

BARCELONA WON their fourth Champions league title in a decade and swept all before them in the Spanish league last season. Currently, the team is second on the table. Meanwhile, the Premier League has floundered of late in Europe’s premier footballing competition. The champions of England currently lie 15th on the table.

The problem with the Spanish league is a lack of collectivisation in sharing of revenue; the richest teams in the league are the richest in the world. With each team independently agreeing on broadcasting rights, the result is that some teams get tens of millions of pounds while the top two get hundreds of millions of pounds. In England, the money is all chucked into a pot and divided according to position in the league. That way, the gulf between the richest at the top and the poorest at the bottom is never too great. In La Liga, top teams can earn up to 10 times what the bottom team earns. In the English Premier League, no team earns more than twice what others earn from broadcasting.

The inequality was best illustrated in the Barcelona versus Eibar a fortnight ago, which Barcelona won 3-1. Eibar’s annual budget was less than the annual salary of Barcelona’s star player, Lionel Messi. If one team can afford to lavish more money on one man than another team can raise in revenue, there isn’t much of a competition. Socialism has made the Premier League more interesting than capitalist La Liga.

Gor Mahia winning the league unbeaten is beginning to show a gulf in earning potential between teams. Gor has fanatical supporters, political patronage and even a loaf of bread in their name. This is making them richer than their opponents and eroding the competition. Gor’s strength as a team lies in their opponents being worthy of entering the pitch alongside them.

If one team always wins and dominates, there is no competition and no point watching.

SPEED OF TECHNOLOGY

Bring on the driverless buses!

THESE ARE HARD TIMES for vehicle manufacturers.

In the past year we have had General Motors conceal a car defect that killed 100 people and forced them to change their CEO.

Volkswagen and its many subsidiaries have been found to be lying about exhaust emissions to present their cars as more eco-friendly and make the buyers pay lower emission taxes on them.

Fiat Chrysler had one of its cars hacked and its transmission disabled via the Internet.

Private cars are a stupid way to move people around. A private car is a symbol of a failed transport system. A sign of progress is when no one needs to own a car and people realise that transport is a service, not an asset.

These scandals involving private car manufacturers only hasten the move to drop the combustion engine.

I think the recent tests on driverless cars should concentrate on buses, not private cars.

Driverless vehicles should only be an attractive alternative if they are conceived as a mass-transit solution first.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION