Most of us have never heard of Nassarawa, Hauwa-Gana, Tundun Wada or Bolari Kagarawal. But they and many more cities and towns in the state of Gombe, Nigeria, face an acute shortage of water.
So does Chitungwiza, a city of one million outside of Harare, Zimbabwe. Borneo, Mozambique and the Maldives do, too.
Unseasonably hot weather in Saudi Arabia led to acute water shortages in Riyadh. The Yellow River in China is at its lowest level in 50 years, and more than half of the watersheds of China's seven main rivers are contaminated by industrial, farm and household waste, translating into summer water shortages for literally millions of people.
The Amarillo-Globe News reported in May of this year about a developing American water shortage problem in Texas: "By 2050, Texas is projected to have a 43 percent shortage of water in 900 cities," said Ron Kaiser, Texas A&M professor and organizer of a series of seminars on conservation of groundwater ("Water Shortage Expected by 2050," May 29, 2003). The Texas problem is potentially solvable with money—a lot of money, $17 billion.
I was fascinated to learn of the modern technology employed in U.S. conservation efforts. The Oregonian (June 10, 2003, online edition) tells of farmers using tractors guided by lasers and satellite receivers to level fields so perfectly that every plant receives the same amount of irrigation water. Further, what little runoff occurs is captured and recycled. Even so, local farmers struggle with a different kind of water problem—the politics of environmentalists who dispute the use of limited water supplies.
Millions of acres of pine forest in the southwestern United States have died or are dying in the current drought, due to a pine beetle infestation. The beetle burrows into trees, feeds on the inner bark and destroys or clogs passageways that move water from root to branch. As of this writing, the official estimate of acres destroyed by the pine beetle in Arizona alone stands at 800,000. That's up from 50,000 acres in 2001 and on its way to over a million acres—an area the size of the state of Rhode Island.
New Mexico, Colorado and Southern California are also suffering huge losses of timber. The infestation will continue to spread, until the beetles have no more trees to destroy or until rain gives the trees enough strength to resist them. If last year's fire season was catastrophic, this year's could be apocalyptic with millions of standing dead and dry pine trees.
Nonetheless, Western countries overall remain unaffected by projected world water shortages, when contrasted with developing countries. James Reynolds, writing for The Scotsman, captures the disparity perfectly by pointing out that "people in the Western world think little of paying over 500 times more for water in a plastic bottle compared to that which is perfectly safe and drinkable and supplied direct to their homes" ("World's Liquid Asset Is Draining Away," March 6, 2003).
Contrast that with the fact that many in the nation of India manage today with only between 10 and 11 quarts per day—that's per household, not per person! And 40 percent of urban India—65,000 villages—do not have their own water supply. Approximately 6 million wells dug over the past half century have dried up. Water tables fall a meter or more every two to three years ("Indian Population Faces Looming Problem of Serious Water Shortage," www.channelnewsasia.com, May 28, 2003).
Water is major part of the Israeli-Palestinian picture
By international law, Israel must supply drinking water to the Palestinians. Yet Israel deals with drought in some areas virtually every year. Its principal supply comes from the Jordan River system, the Sea of Galilee and two ground sources.
Highlighting the reality of the region's concerns, Jacob Kaidar points out that there have been 21 armed disputes over water in recent history and that 18 of them involved Israel. Kaidar directs multilateral peace talks and water issues in the Israeli foreign ministry.
The Intifada interferes with water shipments. Fearing sabotage by terrorists, Israeli soldiers scrutinize water tanker trucks that pass through their checkpoints, occasionally even draining the water to ensure nothing is amiss. Also, water storage tanks in Palestinian towns are common targets for Israeli bullets.
Palestinians respond by stealing water from Israeli pipelines and drilling illegal wells by the thousands.
Water has to be a part of negotiations for peace, but that's not happening. The BBC reports: "With the publication of the road map to peace, there had been hopes the political leaders would begin to look more closely at the water crisis in region. But with the road map apparently in crisis, it seems the Palestinians may be thirsty for a good while longer" ("Water War Leaves Palestinians Thirsty," BBC, June 15, 2003).
Water-related deaths outnumber war dead 10-1
We recoil in horror at the death toll of wars, but did you realize that 10 times as many people die from waterborne diseases annually than those who die in war? UN figures for the year 2000 estimate that 2,213,000 died from poor water sanitation and associated diseases (1 million of this total was due to malaria alone); an astonishing 2 billion were infected with water-related illnesses—more than 300 million of them seriously so.
But, as with so many other problems, Asian and African countries suffer the most. Approximately 65 percent of Asians and 27 percent of Africans lack an adequate supply of water; 80 percent of Asians and 13 percent of Africans do not have necessary sanitation—resulting in the disease and mortality statistics quoted above.
The present global picture is bleak: 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water and 2.4 billion lack access to proper sanitation, largely in these nations (UN figures).
Future looms disturbingly dry
The future looks worse. "If nothing happens, we have a doomsday scenario with billions of people in countries where water has simply run out by 2025," said Steven Turner, deputy director of Water Aid, a British charity (op. cit., Reynolds).
"Of all the social and natural crises we humans face, the water crisis is the one that lies at the heart of our survival and then of our planet earth," said Koichiro Matsuura, director general of UNESCO (ibid.).
The UN estimates that two of every three of the world's citizens will face water shortages by 2025. By the middle of this century, the worst case scenario projects 7 billion people in 60 countries who will lack water altogether or face severe shortages. The best case scenario projects 2 billion people facing a water crisis in 48 countries.
There are three causes for water shortages: climate changes, pollution and population growth.
Let's take a closer look at the factor of population growth in the 22 Arab nations that are already seriously affected by sanitation problems and water shortages. Their population (now 281 million) will increase approximately 80 million by 2010 and then an additional 100 million by 2020 (Jumana Al Tamimi, "Many Arab Countries Face Serious Water Shortage," Gulfnews, Feb. 16, 2003).
Adding to the fragility of the situation, an average of 60 percent of the water comes from outside of the region. For example, Iraq receives 66 percent of its water from outside its borders; Syria, 34 percent; Jordan, 36 percent; Sudan and Mauritania, 77 percent each. The source areas are principally the Ethiopian Plateau and the nation of Turkey (ibid.).
Nearly 65 percent of Arab farmers depend on rainfall in order to produce their crops. However, this area, like so many areas of the world, is currently undergoing a serious drought.
United Nations teams look to education about pollution and to desalination projects to lessen the potential crisis facing the world. Controlling population growth is unlikely, as individual religious convictions come into play. The 22 Arab nations we've been looking at are principally Muslim.
It's quite probable that people will fight wars for the water they need. In Kofi Annan's words, "Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict" ("UN Warns of Looming Water Crisis," BBC, March 22, 2002).
Let's consider in more depth the factor of changing climates. Some argue that slash-and-burn clearing of rain forests, overusing land in ways that steadily increase the world's deserts and paving millions of miles with concrete and asphalt to make cities have combined to change the world's climates. That may well be true.
What about God? Is there a supernatural factor in changes in the world's weather? And, if so, what can be done to change the negative trend?
What about God?
Jesus said that God does not normally intervene in the weather cycles He created. "He . . . sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). Paul and Barnabas commented that normal and ample rain is indicative of God's provision for mankind: "Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17).
Yet God has and will again withhold rain as a tool to motivate people to spiritual change. Because He is a loving provider, withholding nurturing rain is an unusual and extreme tool for unusual and extreme times.
Look back in history to the time when the Israelites returned from Egyptian slavery to inhabit the land of Canaan (Palestine). The wording of Deuteronomy 11:12-15 indicates a different climate existed than the present one.
Rain enabled abundant agriculture, rather than irrigation used today in the same region. Note also the linkage between a submissive, loving relationship with God and abundant rainfall: "A land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year. And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled."
The thought continues: "Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the LORD's anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you" (verses 16-17).
Historically, God applied the consequences He warned about sporadically at first. He wanted to turn their hearts, not destroy them. Going without rain would, He hoped, bring them to their senses. Eventually, as you know, He shut the skies entirely to the peoples of Israel.
We anticipate that God will do the same in the end time, first to the modern-day Israelites and then to the rest of the nations. His goal remains the same—a desire to have a loving relationship with mankind. But that relationship cannot be cluttered with the kind of syncretized religion into which Israel fell. By way of analogy, Israel attempted to have a marriage relationship with God at the same time as it "entertained" other "gods."
Every major religion on the face of the earth today is a variation of the syncretized religion of the darkest days of Israel's history. It is only a matter of time before the Creator God intervenes—in part, through rain deprivation—to turn people back to Him.
The prophet Amos illustrates how God first shuts down the normal rain here and there. "'I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me,' says the LORD" (Amos 4:7-8). His message rehearses the past, as it projects the future.
Isaiah speaks similarly: "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left. You will also defile the covering of your images of silver, and the ornament of your molded images of gold. You will throw them away as an unclean thing; you will say to them, 'Get away!' Then He will give the rain for your seed with which you sow the ground, and bread of the increase of the earth; it will be fat and plentiful. In that day your cattle will feed in large pastures" (Isaiah 30:21-23).
He will do it again
God systematically used rain deprivation to help people come to their senses and repudiate their mixed religion, and He will do so again. Prophecy indicates that the majority of mankind will not easily or quickly come around. The prophecy of two witnesses in Revelation 11:6 specifically foretells a major confrontation—not between nations, but rather between the nations and God. The two witnesses have God's permission and power to "shut off the tap" of fresh water. Revelation 8:11 and 16:4 tell of two additional times of supernatural intervention in the earth's water supplies at the climactic conclusion of the age.
All the statistics and observations above indicate that the world is headed for a wretched crisis. Its politics and its religions virtually guarantee that the crisis will not be averted. Some measure of international cooperation may mitigate the already terrible circumstances. However, the time is coming when God will change the world's climate patterns.
Has God begun this dramatic intervention? If one has to ask the question, the answer is, no. When God sets His hand to get man's attention, He will not do so secretly or with subtlety.
Further, His actions will be bold and in conjunction with His true Church declaring the purpose of what's happening. For, after all, it's not punishment for punishment's sake, but rather the tough love of a caring Father.
Water, the world's most abundant natural resource will be a key factor in future world events. —WNP