Last Drop 10 - The Last Drop Confronting the possibility of...

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The Last Drop Confronting the possibility of a global catastrophe MICHAEL SPECTER There is no standard for how much water each person needs each day, but experts usually put the minimum at fifty litres. The government of India promises (but rarely provides) forty. Most people drink two or three litres—less than it takes to flush a toilet. The rest is typically used for cooking, bathing, and sanitation. Americans consume between four hundred and six hundred litres of water each day, more than any other people on earth. Most Europeans use less than half that. Water is often seen as the most basic and accessible element of life, and seemingly the most plentiful. For every gallon in rivers or lakes, fifty more lie buried in vast aquifers beneath the surface of the earth. Yet at least since the cities of ancient Sumeria went to war over control of their rivers—long before tales of Moses parting the Red Sea or the Flood described in the Bible—water has been a principal source of conflict. (The word "rivals" even has it roots in fights over water, coming from the Latin rivalis , for "one taking from the same stream as another.") By 2050, there will be at least nine billion people on the planet, the great majority of them in developing countries. If water were spread evenly across the globe, there might be enough for everyone. But rain often falls in the least desirable places at the most disadvantageous times. Delhi gets fewer than forty days of rain each year, all in less than four months. In other Indian cities, the situation is worse. Somehow, though, the country has to sustain nearly twenty per cent of the earth's population with only four per cent of the earth’s water. China has less water than Canada and forty times as many people. With wells draining aquifers far faster than they can be replenished by rain, the water table beneath Beijing has fallen nearly two hundred feet in the past twenty years. Most of the world's great civilizations grew up around rivers, and few forces have so clearly shaped the destiny of human populations. When full and flowing, rivers have brought prosperity to the cities and nations they feed. Harnessing the power of a major river has been a signature of progress at least since Rome built its first aqueduct, the Aqua Appia, more than two thousand years ago. New York, London, and Rome would have disappeared long ago without the Hudson, the Thames, and the Tiber. In the twenty-first century, though, no river can satisfy the demands of the world's biggest cities. The fourteen million residents of New Delhi consume nine hundred million gallons of freshwater each day; the city supplies nearly seven hundred million gallons from rivers and reservoirs, but more than a third of it is lost to leaks within the ten-thousand- kilometre system of dilapidated pipes and pumping stations. Some of the rest is siphoned off by an increasingly brazen water mafia, which then sells it to people in slums who are supposed to get it for free. When you can't get enough water from the surface of the earth, there are really only two
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Last Drop 10 - The Last Drop Confronting the possibility of...

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