Our Draining World Water Supply

From the August 2000 Trumpet Print Edition

What was the first thing you did after you woke up this morning? Whether you splashed your face, used the toilet, hopped into a nice, hot shower or prepared coffee or tea, you freely helped yourself to one of this world’s most precious and dwindling natural resources—clean water.

You were not alone. Millions of people around the world did similar things. In fact, more people are using more water when less is available.

An even greater problem exists with industrial water supply and demand. This makes the largest impact, though most of us may be unaware of its astounding volume—billions and trillions of cubic gallons annually to power turbines for electricity, to mix with concrete, to run steam generators and so forth.

The effects of withdrawing from a finite supply “bank” of water are being felt by many countries as they attempt to achieve first world status from third or lower place.

Take China, which is grappling with severely limited water supplies to satisfy the thirst of its nearly 1.3 billion inhabitants while driving forward its growing capitalist economy.

A recent Toronto Globe and Mail article asserted that China’s greatest challenge of this century is how to deal with its critical lack of water. According to the World Bank, water scarcity alone cuts off $35 billion per year from China’s gross national product if lost crops and lower industrial production are factored in. More than half of China’s citizens endure the water shortages in 400 of its 600 northern cities. Eighty percent of the country’s rivers are essentially garbage-strewn sewage canals and therefore not potable. Concurrently, the Chinese are eating less grain and more meat, necessitating more reliance upon water to raise grasslands for cattle. The situation is so dire, several researchers are estimating that China will be unable to feed itself in coming decades.

The Futurist of February 1999 asserted that “1 billion people will be facing absolute water scarcity by 2025. Countries such as China and India will have to drastically reduce water use in agriculture to satisfy residential and industrial water needs.” The October issue of the same periodical reported that “population is growing so rapidly in dozens of countries that governments are becoming less able to provide basic services such as education, let alone respond to new threats such as epidemics, food shortages and water scarcity.”

Another literal “hot-spot” that the Trumpet often features is the very arid Middle East. Israel has been forced, after two very dry winters, to negotiate with its ally, Turkey, to make up its water deficit. Israel plans to buy nearly 2 billion cubic feet of fresh water a year from a desalination plant located near Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. The water will be shipped in converted oil tankers. Israel’s own desalination plants will not be operational for about three years.

Unless drastic action is taken now, Israeli agriculture could collapse as early as next year. Amazingly, no restrictions have been placed on using hoses to water lawns or wash cars, but farmers have had their water quotas cut 40 percent.

Israel uses more than its fair share of the region’s water, about three times as much as the Palestinians do. In fact, Israel even controls the Palestinians’ use of water—but that could dramatically change if Yasser Arafat declares independent statehood in September. A large underground reservoir of water that Israel has been using lies largely under Palestinian territory. Jordan’s King Abdullah predicted last year that “future potential conflict in our area is not over land. It is over water.”

These are just two areas of the world that are suffering. How about the Horn of Africa? It has just experienced a temporary respite, with abnormally heavy spring rains. But what does the future hold for this hopelessly impoverished region that has already lost staggering numbers of humans and livestock? The United Nations estimates that between 13 and 16 million people, half of them in Ethiopia, urgently need food and medical aid to prevent mass death by starvation. Yet Ethiopia’s military expenditures are roughly $1 million a day. Rival warlords are also responsible for putting about 1 million people at risk in Somalia since its central government failed almost a decade ago. Other wars on the continent, and the world’s worst explosion of the dreaded and deadly aids epidemic, mute the severity of the drought-induced famine malaise.

Most of us are so far removed from the aforementioned problems that we only occasionally, if ever, hear about them. It can easily make us feel safe from similar problems ever happening closer to home. Though we are technologically advanced, the prospect of drought and famine is a very real and harsh reality which those in the Western world—mostly English-speaking countries—should heed.

Some of our readers may have experienced the infamous Dust Bowl years of the 1930s when drought occurred right in the breadbasket of the U.S. In some places, more than a foot of rich, fertile topsoil was blown away. Conditions today are ripe for a repeat of history—and potentially worse.

Drought is already choking the Midwest U.S.—particularly the corn belt. The area affected stretches from Nebraska and Iowa across parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and on into Ohio. Large portions of Texas, Florida and Georgia are also suffering through a severe drought. Since last July, rainfall in the driest zone has been 6 to 9 inches below normal. Plants may be greening on the surface, but the soil is bone-dry a foot or two down. Long-range forecasts suggest it will be drier and warmer than normal throughout this summer, a critical part of the growing season. Iowa’s precipitation, for example, from Sept. 1, 1999, to April 1 this year was the fourth-lowest since 1873. Temperatures over the same period showed the biggest shift in 105 years from what is considered normal.

Increased irrigation expenditures may mean higher prices for products such as corn and soybeans, and could spell financial ruin for many farmers.

Environmentalists may blame the much-touted global warming phenomenon, while climatologists like to cite La Niña, a cooling of the eastern Pacific Ocean around the equator that often brings dry, hot summers to the Midwest.

Drought has been the root cause of famines throughout history. But with the world’s growing population, the devastating impact of a severe drought could be much greater than it has been historically.

Man naively reasons that if he practices reforestation, improves irrigation, rotates crops and is generally more responsible in land development, that he can conserve and even increase sources of water and totally eliminate drought.

But are drought and other weather abnormalities just naturally caused situations that can be explained away? Or are they punishment for sin? All of us, not just farmers, have disobeyed God’s laws codified in His Ten Commandments. Each of us must obey or we will all suffer when our nations must pay in full for their sins, which include lying, stealing, adultery, Sabbath-breaking and murder.

Compare Deuteronomy 28 with Leviticus 26:3-4, 18-20. Worldwide repentance would bring rain. True repentance is genuine sorrow for having done wrong and a sincere determination to do what is right, to go God’s way and not our own way. It means a change in direction.

God Almighty—who controls the weather, not man—says He would then intervene and give us rain in due season, provide us with abundant, healthy crops and protect us from drought and resultant famine—if we would obey Him. These are God’s rock-solid promises. But until our people drastically turn and are willing to learn from the curses afflicting many countries around the world, we will not receive those blessings. God cannot lie. He prophesies that one third of the entire world’s population will die of drought-induced famine and disease (Ezek. 5:12).