Out of Water

FULL DISCLOSURE: I sort of know one of the authors

Well, if you were looking for sex Out of Water is not the book for you. The distinct lack of eroticism and steamy shower scenes fatally infect that pursuit. On the other hand, if the intent is to read an informative and surprisingly tractable articulation of the pending water crisis in this ever populating world, Colin Chartres and Samyuktha Varma’s survey of the (rather literally) barren landscape is a good choice.

Water scarcity is a crucial problem facing our planet. I mean, even if you are the most fanatic climate change skeptic, the sheer math is daunting. By 2050 we will be 9 billion people living with largely the same planet elementally. 50 percent more toilets to flush!  But alas, with the increased urbanization of the population, the amount of potable water makes the math more complicated – and if you want to add effects of climate change in – the math is very very tricky.  The problem with the water scarcity problem as a marketing slogan is that frankly, in the bourgeois United States (hell, even the impoverished United States) potable water is not a huge problem.  We whine about urban water supplies, but comparing that to what villagers in rural India face is utterly ridiculous.  The effects of the potential lack of water is clear, but the symptoms are often second order – fortunately we are not at armageddon yet.

What Varma and Chartres (perhaps referred to as Chartma in this document because I am too lazy to write out both names) do effectively in this book is to concisely outline the conditions in a few representative case studies – both in what is happening to the water supply, and measures that exist to solve it.  In some ways the book is predictable (we have a problem), but the insights provided on the issue are clearly well researched.  In particular, Chartma’s identification of a flawed worldwide water management paradigm is enlightening.  That is, while most resources are regarded economically – water is regarded in a more schizophrenic manner.  Water is an economic good, especially for matters such as irrigation, but it is obviously a social good – a utility if you will.  Governments have not been very good at unifying management approaches to accomodate both uses of the same resource.  As a result, the interdependence of agriculture with individual consumption is often given short shrift.

Chartma goes on to specifically go over cases in the Murray-Darling Basin, South Asia and North America.  The book surveys both the management philosophies and regulatory environments in place, as well as the specific circumstances.  Australia seems to have been “scared straight” the most by their issues, and thus have the most pro-active view of the situation.  That said, the facts and the outlines of the cases are probably the weakest part of the book.  This is not because it is poorly researched, but because it is so exhaustively researched.  The pictures, and exhibits become a little overwhelming – and endnotes fill me with anger and scorn.  Of course I have no doubt I am not the target audience here.

That minor quibble aside, Varma and Chartres have put together a concise, valuable explanation of the pending water scarcity crisis.  For a fairly academic pursuit, the writing is taut and actually pretty accesible prosewise – the jargon is kept to a minimum.  This is a really important issue, and Out of Water does it full justice. But alas, there is no sex.


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