Friday, February 14, 2014

Mismanagement and Water Shortages

Dr. Ahmed Saeed Ghatti posts (13 Feb) on The Nation HERE 13-Feb-2014/food-security
 Food security
When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water
–Benjamin Franklin
Water is a curious thing”, said, the economist Adam Smith, in his book titled the Wealth of Nations. “Although it is vital to life, it costs almost nothing, whereas diamonds, which are useless for survival, cost a fortune”. In the backdrop of tragedy of commons, and as rightly pointed out also by the Canadian environmental journalist, Marc de Villiers, water is still undervalued though it is fast becoming precious. The water-diamond paradox of values notwithstanding, the world at large appears, however, to be running out of water. And people in almost all countries of the world with fast growing economies are beset with a severe water crisis. Accordingly, food security is surging as a big dilemma owing to water constraint which is due largely to mismanagement of this resource by people across the world -be it China, US, Europe, countries of the east European block, Africa, Central Asia, Indus or the Nile delta. Though not solely mentioned among the countries known for bad management, Pakistan is by far the most prominent country where water is being grossly mismanaged or has not for many reasons been managed at all."                      
Strange to criticise Adam Smith writing in 18th century Scotland on what was, and remains, true of Scotland’s supply and access to water but not to diamonds (except those imported at huge relative prices for imported diamonds compared to cheaper heavy rainfall off the Atlantic). 
The key to the “water crisis” outlined by Dr. Ahmed Saeed Ghatti is not necessarily part of a climate change concern.  I suggest the countries mentioned face problems of demand rising (population and geography) and stagnant or obsolete technology, possibly also failed political systems.
However, one thing is not a major obstacle: there is no global water shortage. The market economies are not using their abundant water resources at the expense of other economies.  Water always has to be processed, stored and distributed at some expensive investment.  Poor countries are often not investing enough for all the usual reasons, not the least because of endemic political corruption, racial and tribal strife, civil wars, and desperate waste and "not for many reasons been managed at all."
These factors ensure failure to develop the necessary infra-structure for water extraction and distribution, which is often not a target of the governments nominally in charge.


Blogger said...

I don't think the writer was criticizing Adam Smith. He was just quoting him, and using him as an implied authority for the argument that water is often not properly "priced." In most cases, "mismanagement" of water means that it is not being properly priced, usually due to subsidies provided to powerful political interests (in California, the industrial farmers of the Central Valley have made a fortune on receiving cheap (sometimes free) water despite the environmental costs and burden placed on less powerful people.

11:46 pm  

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