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Water crisis

Another World Water Day has come and gone, but there is no end in sight for the world’s water crisis. All other problems facing the world seem insignificant in the light of the acute water crisis. In fact, several conflicts raging round the world today have arisen due to disputes over water resources. Darfur is a classic example.

This is indeed why the UN is taking this issue very seriously.

“A shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon says. “Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon.”

This is a rather bleak picture but one which is becoming increasingly true. It is a vicious cycle from which a way out seems to be impossible: more people will have to share the existing water resources. The population of the world will exceed nine billion by 2050.

Although our planet is 75 per cent water, less than three per cent of it is in the form of accessible freshwater. Only a very few countries can afford to build desalination plants for seawater, leaving the others to seek freshwater resources.

In the words of Anders Berntell, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, the lack of safe drinking water for over one billion people worldwide, and the lack of safe sanitation for over 2.5 billion, “is an acute and devastating humanitarian crisis.”

Moreover, even the available resources in many countries, such as rivers, are polluted to the extent that their water is unfit for human consumption. It is thus not difficult to comprehend why nearly 50 per cent of the hospital beds in the world are occupied by those suffering from water-borne diseases.

It is not an issue of clean water alone. The lack of basic sanitation facilities is a major issue in the Third World. The U.N.’s declaration of 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation has catalysed increased action in this regard. As many water experts point out, this is a crisis of management, not a water crisis per se.

A chronic lack of funding and inadequate understanding of the need for sanitation and good hygiene at the local level have been cited as the main causes. Only a fraction of the worldwide military costs will suffice to solve water-related problems in developing countries.

Another challenge is that the world’s rainfall and water distribution patterns are changing thanks to climate change. So far, no country has taken this threat seriously.

Ensuring access to drinking water is only the tip of the iceberg. Water is essential for agriculture but water resources are increasingly being denied to farmers. The world is already facing a food crisis and a wide-scale shortage of agricultural water leading to a food shortage could only spell a disaster for many impoverished nations. Several countries have proposed urgent action to prevent such a situation.

Britain, for instance, has proposed an annual global monitoring report; one high-level global ministerial meeting on water; at country level, one national plan for water and sanitation; one coordinating body; and activities of U.N. agencies on water and sanitation to be coordinated by one lead body under the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and its country plan. This seems to be an ideal starting point for more concrete action on the water crisis.

On one hand we see the Third World struggling without adequate water resources. On the other, we see the wasteful use of bottled water. In the West, bottled water has become a contentious issue mainly owing to the use of non-biodegradable packaging.

More morally-stung people are opting for tap water even at top restaurants thanks to a high-profile campaign against bottled water. The world has also woken up to the concept of ‘virtual water’.

In basic terms, it is all about the water ‘contained’ in products and services which seemingly have no connection with water. Take a garment for sale - how many litres of water would have gone into its production process? Prof. John Anthony Allen, who introduced the concept, has won this year’s Stockholm Water Prize. Now the race is on to reduce the wastage of water ‘embedded’ in consumer products from food to household appliances to cars.

The water crisis, in various forms, is threatening to tear apart the UN’s ambitious Millennium Development Goals challenge for developing nations. This should be prevented through collective action by the international community, since today’s technology is adequate to meet the daunting challenge.

The mind of the suicide bomber

James Joll published his book The Anarchists almost half a century before the first suicide bombing in the Middle East. But his description of the indiscriminate violence of some of the anarchists of the 19th century fits the calibrated callousness of suicide bombers, especially of the Iraqi kind.

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There’s no unwinnable war:

Only a mission to crush terrorism

It is a known fact that the Tamils living outside the LTTE held areas dissent the LTTE. This was amply demonstrated during the liberation of the East. Hundreds of innocent Tamils held hostage crossed borders without fear when the East was being liberated. This is even witnessed today in some parts of the Wanni.

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The silence of space

One aspect of the novel The Sentinel that probably hurt the film 2001 is its silence. Right to the end, that movie stalked him. When British science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke died last Tuesday at the age of 90,

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