Don’t Play Chicken with Water

By Richard Wooley* (c) reprinted with permission

The severe drought in Cape Town, South Africa, renewed interest in the growing global water crisis, one that affects billions of people a year and is now encroaching upon some major cities like Beijing, Cairo, Moscow and London. Demand for water is exceeding supply, and supply is down not just because we like to drink, cook and shower, but because climate change is drinking up the supply, and we’ve polluted a great deal of what’s left.

The reaction should be deafening considering the statistics: about 3 billion people have limited or no access to water. There are about 2,000 children a day — 800,000 children each year — dying as a consequence of water shortages. Public, private and grassroots organizations are trying to balance demand and supply through new irrigation techniques, toilet-to-tap purification, do-it-yourself purification, changing of personal habits and more.

The race is on to solve this problem by 2030, when the world is estimated to have only 60 percent of the water it needs. Funding and human concern remain underwhelming, though.

When a world financial and cultural destination like London is number nine in the list of cities about to run out water, the water crisis probably catches a little more attention than the 2,000 nameless children who die in some unfamiliar country every day. That’s a terrible commentary on human nature, but, like Cape Town, London feels closer to home if you live in a developed country.

With pollution, climate change and the lack of funding to fully address the problem, and with cities like London and states like California scrambling for even short-term solutions, solving the approaching 40 percent water supply deficit between 2018 and 2030 does not seem like very much time to win the war. A child born today will only be 12 by then. By comparison, the war in Afghanistan is in its 17th year.

In the US, we spend $76 billion on the war on drugs, yet the war on unsafe drinking water as proposed in the 2018 budget is $3 billion and some change, and that is after $600 million in cuts that once went to enforcement of clean drinking water regulations. That implies our representatives care $73 billion more about perpetually losing the drug war than about keeping us alive with access to a basic natural resource.

At the same time, when a brand-name fast-food restaurant runs out of their trademark chicken, it causes an uproar heard around the globe.

Late last month, more than half of the 900 KFC restaurants in the UK ran out of chicken, and the shortage created a frenzy. What’s worse is that it was expected to last a week, with stores opening gradually as supply becomes available. KFC even tossed up a website so that addicts can find out if there’s a store near them that has a couple buckets or nuggets to spare. Angry citizens are calling the police and parliament to complain. The hashtag #KFCCrisis has tweets with dire words like “Disaster. Took the Grandkids out to dinner at KFC only to see that it’s shut down.” Some show anger at the new distributor that’s allegedly at fault: “Have they checked DHL haven’t left the chicken with a neighbour or thrown it over the fence???” There are I-told-you-so posts like “We tried to warn KFC this [cost cutting] decision would have consequences — well now the chickens are coming home to roost.” And there’s the obligatory sign of our times from someone who wrote: “Just bid £159.00 for a 10 piece Bargain Bucket for sale on eBay.” Some tweets even claimed the supply problem was a sign of the apocalypse; and the event was fertile ground to highlight the cruel treatment of mass-produced chickens.

The “Great Chicken Shortage” is a prescient precursor to the “Great Water Shortage”. It could be thought of as a Tarot card reading of our future water dilemma. Consider, we have low-budget initiatives but no backup plan to the impending shortage. We are betting on unreliable distribution of whatever resources may be left as supply dwindles. Lack of funding is like KFC taking the cheapest route for delivery. There is no foreseeable protest and there won’t be one until after-the-fact, when websites are directing us to emergency water sources, where they can stock up and express penitence for a form of apocalypse. And all of the above is fertile ground to highlight the cruel treatment of the 800,000 children dying every year even before the shortage.

In 12 years, maybe fewer, we could be buying water for £159.00 a bucket from eBay and hoping that DHL doesn’t leave it with the neighbor. That’s if there is an eBay, if there are buckets, if there is a DHL, if there is a neighbor — and if there’s a you.

*a/k/a Charlie


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