water availability

"Water: Our Thirsty World" hits the spot in filling information void

Only an hour or two after posting my recent item on World Water Day, I arrived home to find an aptly timed National Geographic in the mail, a special issue with the cover hed "Water: Our Thirsty World." It's a powerful reminder of how a print publication can take on a meaty issue and give it the royal treatment. (Not that NatGeo doesn't also have some great stuff on the website to accompany the package.)

I haven't finished wading through the whole NatGeo edition, but thought I ought to call this to Dateline Earth readers' attention while the magazine's still available on the newstand. I'm sorry, but for me, the print NG is still a joy, and this issue helps show why.

Of course there are jaw-droppingly gorgeous photos. The stories include these worthwhile pieces:

+ Women in Third World countries are saddled with spending big chunks of their days fetching water. It sounds ridiculous, but I've been wondering about this since, on my trip to Africa, I saw numerous women and girls out in the middle of nowhere carrying big water containers. This piece by Tina Rosenberg,  from east central Africa, has this sell: "If the millions of woman who haul water long distances had a faucet by their door, whole societies could be transformed."

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

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."

Former couch potato plans wintertime run the length of world's oldest, deepest lake -- Siberia's Baikal

rm iwest mugIn the couple of decades I've watched environmentalists go to ever-greater lengths to get out their messages, I've seen few more wacky stunts than the one planned by two guys from Canada: Running the length of the world's oldest and deepest lake, Lake Baikal in Siberia, in the wintertime. While pulling along 100 pounds of supplies behind them. And live-blogging the whole thing, of course. (What?!? No Twitter!?!)

Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely -- shall we just call them "the wackos" from now on? -- plan to  set off on March 1, which means the ice will still be plenty hard on Baikal. (Fun fact: Less than a decade ago, Zahab was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker and couch potato!)

Their cause: to highlight the value and scarcity of fresh water. Nowhere else in the world does a freshwater lake hold as many gallons as does Baikal. It has more of the wet stuff than all of America's Great Lakes combined.

You may have heard of these wackos before.