Water, economy and civilisation

By Tulio Konstantinovitch

The current problem with lack of water in Sao Paulo, Brazil brought an important debate about the negligence of the governments not only in Brazil, but also in other parts of the world, to the limitation of the natural resources. It is common sense that natural resources are finite and one day they will end, but it is only when the problem becomes more evident that people and the governments seem to start worrying about this issue.

Although famous as the “city of the rain” in the last years the water supply in Sao Paulo has only decreased. It is the first time in history that a major city will completely run out of water. In the past, the authorities, alarmed with the condition, made use of propaganda to advertise this problem. The main tool used was the media, e.g. TV, magazines, radio, since they have a long reach. However, even though people started to save water, the problem did not end.

In the past months, due to the lack of rain, the condition only got worse and in the last days this is the main topic the media has been covering. What’s indeed interesting is that the media often blames the population. Since the population in Sao Paulo is high, comprising around 20 million citizens in the metropolitan area, it is easy to blame them. However, shouldn’t the government have taken more serious measures to prevent this situation knowing the growth of the population? The Brazilian coastline is enormous with 7.491km. Would it not be wise to use the water of the ocean to produce clean water?

You might be asking, “What does this text has to do with me”? The matter here is not to discuss an issue that is exclusive to one specific city. On the contrary, many places faced and still face the same problem with water. Also, some countries lack other resources, and that’s why it is fundamental to alert people to the fact that it is our responsibility to be sustainable and take care of our planet. The planet works like a human body. When one part stops working, the whole is affected. Water, oil, gas, all these are finite resources and it is our job for surveillance to learn how to overcome the lack of them.

In the US in California, for example, farmers are obtaining water out of the ground that should not have been used for agricultural purposes until 2030. The agricultural business uses 80% of the total water consumption and since people depend on food to live, they cannot complain about this heavy usage. However, why is the percentage of water usage for farming so high? According to the Unicef, irrigation is the main sector that uses water in the world, around 73%, while 21% is used by industries and only 6% is destined to domestic consumption. At the same time, around 40% of the population in the world does not have access to treated water and ten million people die each year from intestinal diseases due to the terrible condition of the water provided in their countries.

This happens due to the fact that most of the water used in the world is for agriculture purposes. This business, in order to compete, overproduces (using huge quantity of water) to keep low prices in the foreign market. And what is even more absurd is that in order to maintain a economic profitable price of products, some firms dump and burn food, such as orange, potato and soy. While there are hungry and thirsty people in the world, some governments and business act egoistically and don’t care about welfare and health. In real terms, from 1974 until 2005, food prices on world markets fell almost eighty percent. This makes especially developed countries able to buy huge amounts of food, which led to obesity and negligence of the importance of each meal.

By prioritizing the excess production in lieu to an appropriate reallocation of resources, the governments and business, although they contribute to economic growth, jeopardize people’s wellbeing. I.e., there are a small number of citizens who benefit from these measures. This is the hidden logic in capitalism: prioritizing profit over life and sustainability.

The phenomenon of lack of water, therefore, comes mainly not from the abuse consumption due to the large number of people, but from the rooted capitalist logic that the more quantity produced and the cheaper the price, the better. This idea can be applied both for agriculture and industries. In the society we live, there is a frequent prioritization of quantity.

People and governments seem not to worry about the consequences of the end of recourses, until they receive a slap on the face. The world is changing, but for the worse. It is only a small part of the population that acknowledges the problems of this century. Even fewer are the ones who reflect and try to change their way of life, prioritizing sustainability. The state lacks authority subsiding the agriculture business over other kinds of production that could use less water. In the year of 2015, only for the support of the middle size agricultural producers, the Brazilian government is going to spend U$6 billions in loans and grants for funding, trading and investment.

The government seems to worry more about productivity than sustainability. Tools that indicate how much water can be used and how much must be recovered in case more than the suggested is spent must be created. For this, the state must step in and be the protagonist for change, since this is in its own interest. Also, changing the techniques of irrigation or the mechanism parts can help minimize unnecessary losses. It is necessary for a sustainable plantation the planning of the cultivation and the understanding of the landscape, such as defining wisely where the forests should be kept and the riverbanks preserved. These aspects contribute to a smooth progress in agriculture and a balanced use of water.

A change will only come from the dialogue between the government and the people, and the former is not willing to do so while it is threatened by the businesses (especially because of corruption) to stay in power. The humanity in the next stage of war will face a war, above all, with itself and its conciseness. The planet is one. The responsibility is ours.

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