Here in Scotland we have not had a drought or water shortage, but over the last month until the last week there has been very little rain. The ground in the garden got very dry and many plants started wilting. For us this was an annoyance in some ways and great in others since it generally meant good weather. However, in many parts of the world water is an increasing problem. When we think about climate change we tend to forget water. A group this week has been trying to get water security put on the Paris climate talks agenda.
Why is water so important. In biological terms its the universal solvent. Most biological molecules are soluble in it, and those that aren’t have good reasons not to be. Its required in photosynthesis in plants as a source of electrons being split as part of this process to produce oxygen (vital to us).
In the bible water (perhaps not surprisingly in such a water stressed region) is seen as an source of life (Joel 1v20), a sign of God’s blessing (Ps23v2, Ez 47v1-11) and cleansing (Ex 29v4). Israel also had an ambivalent relationship with water – particularly that of the sea (Ps 18:16).
There is enough in theology and science to make us think that water is important. Why do we in the West have so little care for water and take it for granted? We switch on the tap and out it comes. This is probably the reason!
Whilst climate change and water shortages will affect the poorest most of the spillover (pun intended) will affect us. Some people believe the civil war in Syria is more to do with climate change induced drought than anything else. Whatever the truth there is little doubt climate change is going to alter rainfall patterns and hence induce water stress in new parts of the world. This includes the developed world.
In 2012 parts of the UK were in drought in winter, with controls over use. Then it rained all summer and we had vast floods. The US is using up its aquifers in the SW and California at an unsustainable rate with implications not just for agriculture but also energy production. I learnt this week that 26% of US coal fired power stations are in water stressed areas. Fracking which uses vast amounts of water may not be possible in such water stressed regions such as South East England. Its now a regular occurrence for French and Swiss nuclear power stations to shut down due to lack of cooling water in the summer and in the late 90’s California had power shortages partly due to a lack of water for its hydro systems.
Water is something we all need to start taking seriously, its a vital resource.