2003: International Year Of Freshwater
The United Nations has declared the year 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater. This is a timely decision because of the global concern over the shortage of drinking water.
The world's population lives on the 2.5 per cent of the world's water that is both fresh and accessible. The largest reserve of freshwater is the Antarctic iceshelf, which has about 80 per cent of the world's supply of freshwater.
There is a great deal of concern about the shortage of freshwater in Australia. This is the world's oldest, flattest, driest continent. Indigenous Peoples made a success of living lightly upon the land for at least 140,000 years. They managed to survive on all the different climatic conditions.
But the European agriculture and lifestyles may not be compatible with Australia's environment. For example, there has been the destruction of trees for land clearing, which has caused problems with salination. Additionally, there has not been enough financial incentive to use water wisely.
It is worth noting that Australia is not the only country with freshwater problems.
In the Middle East, wars could be caused by water shortages. Indeed, there is a current American mediation between Israel and Lebanon. Also, Israel and Jordan are trying to save the Dead Sea; this is their biggest cooperation agreement since 1994.
Another example concerns China. Some of China's topsoil now goes to the US and Canada. The rapid economic development of China means that much of the country's rich arable land is being used for buildings and roads, and so all the development is degrading the soil. The prevailing winds pick up the dry soil off the land and carry it across the northern Pacific and into Canada and the California.
Who will feed China? China's wheat harvest peaked at 123 million tons in 1997; the harvest has fallen in the four of the last five years and is now at 92 million tons. Ironically, if Australia could take better care of its own land, then it could become the breadbasket of China and so lead to an Australian rural renaissance (not least when China becomes the economic super power around 2050)
Wesley Mission has a great interest in these developments. It pioneered the wise use of water at the Cottee Orchard in South Australia. The orchard grows about one per cent of Australia's citrus fruit. Instead of the usual technique of just spraying water extensively over all the leaves, the Mission introduced the Israeli technique of selective watering of the roots. Far less water is used in this way.
At the Mission's Pendleton Farm retreat, also in South Australia, kitchen, shower and washbasin water ("grey water") is treated and then used for again for showers and water basins.
At Vision Valley, on the outskirts of Sydney, there is an immense recycling effort underway. The NSW Environmental Protection Authority has found the quality of the recycled treated water to be very high.
To conclude, it is worth bearing in mind that not only do humans have to live on 2.5 per cent of the world's freshwater, but it is the same freshwater from one generation to the next. No new freshwater is being invented. The water you drink has been, so to speak, drunk by many other people in many other previous centuries.
Keith Suter Consultant for Social Policy
Broadcast On Friday 1st November 2002 On Radio 2GB's "Brian Wilshire Programme" At 9pm.