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Chapter 13:

Water

                       

 

MAIN ISSUE:

Lomborg computes the total amount of freshwater that is theoretically available, per person, on a global average basis and concludes that there is plenty of water around. Yet such a statistic is meaningless - the global average water availability per capita is irrelevant to the severe and complex problems of local and regional access to water. The chapter contains very little about the actual situation in different parts of the world. There is practically no discussion of situations where water consumption exceeds water supply, no discussion of sustainability, and no discussion of ground water levels. The worst case on the Earth of bad water management, that of the Aral Sea, is barely mentioned. Lomborg claims that if all other fails, we can always desalinate sea water; but he fails to recognize that the largest growth in demand will be for irrigation of agricultural land, and irrigation with desalinated water may never become economically attractive.

An up-to-date reference giving a survey of the world´s water resources:

I. A. Shiklomanov & J. C. Rodda (2003): World water resources at the beginning of the twenty-first century. 435 pp. Cambridge Univ. Press.

A critical review of Lomborg´s treatment of the water resource issue by Peter H. Gleick may be downloaded here.  `


P. 150 right and note 1078: (COMMENT)

"Thus, a more useful measure of water consumption is . . This is called water use." Comment: Here, Lomborg´s terminology is exactly opposite of what is conventional among international experts. In their terminology, the above sentence would have been: "Thus, a more useful measure of water use is . . This is called water consumption.". This brings confusion to the rest of the text. For instance, in the next paragraph, we read that Earth´s water use has grown from about 330 km³ to . . Only by consulting figure 83 do we understand that what is meant here, is water consumption. In note 1078, the terminology becomes overridingly confusing. Lomborg should have known better. For instance, he has read Engelman & LeRoy (1993), who bring a box with "Definitions of key water terms and concepts".

P. 150 bottom right: (COMMENT)

"At the same time, we have gained access to more and more water , as indicated in figure 84. " Comment: The confusing terminology continues here. When Lomborg says "access", he means what others call withdrawal or abstraction. By referring to figure 84, he gives us the wrong impression that in 1980, there was much more water at our disposal than in 1900, when actually this figure says nothing about what was at our disposal - what did we have access to - but only how much did we actually withdraw.

P. 151 top right: (COMMENT)

"So, if the global use is less than 17 percent of the readily accessible and renewable water . . . why do we worry?" COMMENT: At no point in his text does Lomborg explain to his readers that you cannot consume 100 % of the water resource. If consumption is 100 %, that would mean, by definition, that there would be no runoff at all. Not one drop of water would flow to the sea. All rivers would be dry. Even if this were technically possible - which it is not - the consequences would be an ecological disaster. Actually, a UN report describes a situation in which more than 20 % of the water resource is consumed as a situation of water stress ("moderate to high stress"). The source of this judgement is Raskin et al., 1997, which Lomborg has read. Thus, he should know that already when the global figure is 17 %, we are not far from global water stress.

P. 151 bottom right: (COMMENT)

"While it is of course important to avoid water pollution in part because pollution restricts the presently available amount of fresh water . . " Comment: Lomborg says that conceptually, lack of clean potable water due to pollution is a question of water pollution, not of water amount. So he, allegedly, postpones this question to other chapters. In chapter 19, pollution of river water with bacteria is only briefly referred to, and in chapter 22, the question of pesticides in drinking water is discussed only with reference to North America. So, the serious problem of pollution of potable water in the developing world is not treated specifically anywhere in the book, which means that there is no logical connection between the figures in chapter 1 that about 20 % of the world population have no access to clean drinking water, and the figures in the present chapter, according to which only 3 % of the world´s population have problems.

P. 152-153, table 4 and note 1091: ERROR

According to note 1091, the figures in table 4 do not include inflow of river water across the country borders. Error: A check of some data, e.g. for India, reveal that this is not true. Inflow of water with rivers is included. Thus, the figures are inflated upwards releative to what is stated in the text.

P. 152, heading of table 4: (COMMENT)

"Available water, liters per capita per day". Comment: Lomborg uses the words "available" and "availability" in a meaning that differs from that used by experts in the field. Lomborg means the total water resource, whereas the experts mean that part of the water resource that is not (yet) used. This difference in terminology may lead to misunderstandings, e.g. in note 1084 where Lomborg quotes Gleick for saying something about water availability.

P. 152, table 4: ERROR

Error: Some countries seem to be missing in the table. This is especially so for Pakistan. If, as stated by Lomborg, river inflow is not included in the data, then Pakistan should appear in the table with a value of about 650 liters per day in 2000 (Shiklomanov & Rodda, ref. on top of page). If inflow of river water is included, then there is much more water per person, but the problem is that the river water comes from India, which might want to use it for themselves. If this river water should be included for Pakistan, then it should be stubtracted for India, otherwise the same water would be counted twice. If we say, arbitrarily, that Pakistan may use half of this water, then the figure becomes 2,200 liters in 2000, and thus Pakistan should still be included in the table. The inclusion of Pakistan is certainly warranted, as the country actually withdraws more water than what infiltrates the soil from rain and rivers to recharge ground water stores (WRI: World resources 2000-2001). As Pakistan´s proportion of the world population is nearly 3 % and rising, this means that the proportion of the world´s people with chronic scarcity is nearly doubled just by this single correction.

P. 152 right: (COMMENT)

Comment: The figure of 2,740 liters per day appears very precise and technical, but is just Lomborg´s recalculation of the figure of 1,000 m³ per year - i.e. a rather arbitrary threshold.

P. 152 right: ERROR

". . global climate models seem to change where water shortages appear . . but the total changes are small (1-5 percent) and go both ways." Error: Actually, both global and regional studies show that possible changes in water availability range from 10 to even 100 percent. This may be read from the water chapter of the IPCC reports. Furthermore, the total water resource on the globe is of little interest here. What is important, is whether great regional changes will cause technical and political problems. There is much to indicate that this will be so. For the North American continent, for instance, different scenarios range over much greater variations than indicated by Lomborg, according to the National Assessment water sector report summarizing research on US water resources at www.pacinst.org/naw.html. For instance, runoff could decrease as much as 80 % or increase as much as 100 % for different regions.

P. 153 left: FLAW

"Kuwait, Libya and Saudi Arabia all cover a large part of their water demand by . . desalination." Flaw: Although this is correct for Kuwait, the reader may get a false impression regarding the two other countries. Data from 1990 tell that in these, desalination in relation to ground water withdrawal made out 2 % and 5 %, respectively (WRI: world resources 2000-2001). It should also have been mentioned that Kuwait heavily subsidizes the cost of water to their citizens. This is not possible for poor countries that do not sell oil to the rich world.

P. 153 bottom left: ERROR

"The price today to desalt sea water is down to 50 to 80 ¢/m³ . . " Error: These are estimated prices for a single plant that has yet to be built and that has several atypical characteristics. In fact, prices for desalination reamin between $1 and $2 per m³ (P.H. Gleick (2000): The world´s water 2000-2001. Covelo, Calif.).

P. 153 top right: FLAW

"First, we can have sufficient water, if we can pay for it. . . . Second, desalination puts an upper boundary on the degree of water problems in the world . . " Flaw: By making this artificial split between "first" and "second", Lomborg circumvents a problem which remains a problem in the real world. Nearly 90 % of all water withdrawal in the developed world is used for irrigation of agricultural land. If this water were to be supplied from desalinated water, then the price of the produced food would be so high that those who need the food could not afford it. According to Lomborg´s chapter 9, higher food prices would be an indicator of food shortage. That is, if desalination became the solution to our water problems, then it just would mean that a water deficit were changed into a food deficit. An "upper boundary on the degree of water problems" would only be set if the price for desalination dropped below 0.5 $/m³. It is not likely to do so, because of the trend in energy prices.

P. 153 right and note 1095: (COMMENT)

". . less than 0.3 percent of the Sahara." Comment: If things were really that simple, and 11 % of the world´s energy production could be supplied from solar cells covering 0.27 % of the Sahara, why do we not cover 2.5 % of the Sahara with solar cells, which would supply the entire energy consumption of mankind ?

P. 153 right: (COMMENT)

"Making desalination cover the total municipal water withdrawal would cost . . " COMMENT: First, as noted in comment to p. 153 bottom left, Lomborg´s price for desalination is erroneous. Second, this calculation is meaningless. Except for a few states like Arabian sheikdoms, the water problem is not a problem of municipal water. It is a problem of water for agriculture.

P. 153 right: FLAW

"Many countries get by just fine . . . Israel is a prime example of efficient water use . . ". Flaw: Engelman & LeRoy (a source consulted by Lomborg) has the text that "Israel probably uses water more efficiently than any other country, yet its demand has exceeded the sustainable annual yield of its available sources since the mid-1970s." With Gleick as reference they state that Israel withdrew 110 % of its renewable water supplies in the late 1980s, and that water level in the wells is still sinking. Another source (WRI: World resources 2000-2001) indicates an overdraft at present much larger than this. Thus, the water situation in Israel is not sustainable, i.e. even the most efficient water use in the world does not make the situation "just fine".

P. 154 bottom left: FLAWED STATEMENT

"Summing up, more than 96 percent of all nations have at present sufficient water resources . . . " Flaw: As stated in a comment to table 4, Pakistan should have been included in the nations with insufficient water resources. It is a wrong wording to say that water accessibility has increased, when what is meant is water withdrawal.

P. 156 left: INCONSISTENCY

"Part of the solution will come from higher water prices . . ". Inconsistency: In other chapters on resources (chapters 9 and 12), falling prices are taken as something good, indicating that there is no shortage of the resource. Here, in the water chapter, on the other hand, Lomborg tells us that rising prices are good, because they will ensure that there will be no shortage of the resource (by improving efficiency and recycling). So, if prices fall, this is an indication that we will have no problems. And if prices rise, this is also an indication that we will have no problems !

P. 156-157: (COMMENT)

"So a war would require . . a permanent occupation and possible depopulation of the entire watershed . . As an Israeli Defense Forces analyst pointed out . . ". Comment: During the 1967 war, the Israelis attacked a dam on the Yarmuk river at the border between Jordan and Syria, and by occupying the Golan heights, they became able to control most of the Jordan river´s headwaters and basis, leaving insufficitent water for Jordan´s growing needs.

P. 157 top right: FLAW

"Our wells are not drying up." Flaw: Lomborg cannot allow himself to write this when he sums up, because in the preceding text, he has nowhere dealt with the issue of sinking ground water levels and hence sinking water levels in the wells. He would have to present arguments that the reported declines in ground water levels will not continue. For instance, he would have to evaluate, in the light of future growth in economy, population, and irrigation e.g. in Pakistan and Israel, if it is realistic that increased efficiency in water use may create balance between ground water withdrawal and ground water recharge. But he fails completely to discuss this crucial and interesting question.

P. 157 right: (COMMENT)

"When the Soviet Union diverted the waters . . it destroyed the world´s fourth largest lake." Comment: Actually, the "development" of the Aral Sea basin has caused an ecological disaster that has no parallel elsewhere in the world. By 1995, the water level had dropped by nearly 20 meters. The sea has lost its importance regarding fisheries and transportation. More than 200 species of plants and animals have become eliminated. The water that runs into the sea, has become more saline, and polluted with many chemicals. 30 % of the irrigated area has become salinized. The former sea bottom has become a desert and a source of dust storms. The climate has become more continental. The area of arable land around the sea has declined. The living conditions of people near the sea have deteriorated. The incidence of several diseases has risen markedly. The rate of child mortality has in some regions reached 10 %. 70 % of all women suffer from anaemia. And all these problems are just becoming worse and worse (Shiklomanov and Rodda, ref. at top of page). All the space that Lomborg uses to describe all this in his 350 page book is just seven words. Clearly, disasters are not allowed to fill anything in the picture that Lomborg paints.

P. 157 right: FLAW

"Today, we have learnt the lesson." Flaw: Concerning the Aral sea, this is not true. The problems are not being solved. Concerning the rest of the world, inappropriate water management and use threaten other bodies, e.g. lake Naivasha in Kenya.