Lack of clean water kills more people than war; it's also choking Beijing in polluted dust

Printer-friendly version

It's clear that climate change is going to be the story of the century, but today's news brings the reminder that an intertwined and nearly equally important story will be the lack of fresh water. Two developments highlight this trend today, on World Water Day:

1) From Beijing comes Christopher Bodeen's dispatch for the Associated Press relating how the Chinese capital is under attack by a dust storm blown off of the desert hundreds of miles away in country's interior in Inner Mongolia, where the Gobi desert is expanding. The cause, the AP reports, is overgrazing, deforestation, drought and urban sprawl. One has to wonder if climate change shouldn't be added to that list. The tiny dust particles mix with industrial pollution to cause a miserable dust-soot combination that blankets Beijing, working its way into homes through openings as small as a keyhole. The Chinese have tried to fight the problem by planting vegetation to hold the soil, but it isn't working. Now they're working on plans to pump lots of water from the wetter south of the country. Lotsa luck, guys. 

2) The United Nations issued a statement  (PDF) pointing out that more people die each year from the lack of clean water than are killed in violence of any kind. Many of these people are children under the age of 5. The UN says that pollution in its traditional forms is responsible for some of these, but so is degradation of watersheds through timber-cutting, covering the ground with hard surfaces that don't allow rainfall to soak in, and other modern practices. Said the UN:

"Preventing the pollution of water resources by reducing or eliminating contaminants at the source is almost always the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to protect water quality."

(For the record, Dateline Earth is almost as against using one of these official "days" as a news peg as we are against anniversary journalism. One reason is that they're so willy-nilly. For example, the UN will also designate "World Water Week" in September. Sheesh! But like all our rules, there are exceptions, and we made this one today.)

Update 3/23 9:54 a.m.: I see that Michelle Ruiz at AOL News has a story pointing out that the UN issued an entire report on the water situation entitled "Sick Water." (PDF)

-- Robert McClure