Running Dry

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Government Water Commission maps show 96 overexploited aquifers in Mexico. Seawater has polluted 17 others because of too much pumping, while toxic seepage is spreading fast. Mexico City, built eight centuries ago atop vast lagoons, cannot adequately supply water for its 22 million inhabitants.

Like many cities in the world, less than half of the city's waste is treated. The rest sinks into underground lakes or flows toward the Gulf of Mexico, turning rivers into sewers. This presents a chilling prospect for Mexico's future. Cantu Suarez, a deputy director of the Mexican National Water Commission, lists 35 cities that must shrink dramatically unless more water can be found. Cities shrinking? Most cities continue to expand through real estate development. Suarez says, "We would have to evacuate people. Without water, it is the only way" (Mort Rosenblum, The Brownsville Herald, Associated Press, Aug. 2, 2003).

A forced exodus from parched cities seems far-fetched, and no one suggests it will happen next week. But it is a specter haunting Mexico's future. Could a forced exodus of people from one city to another occur because there is no water for them? The scenario isn't that far-fetched if you believe Scripture.

Read what the ancient prophet Amos wrote: "I [God] 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). This does sound remarkably like a forced exodus in search of water.

Suarez explains, "We have lots of water in some places but not where the people are." And much of the water Mexico depends upon is the same water that is badly needed in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. One forecast is that Corpus Christi, Texas (population 277,454), will run out of water around 2018. In the meantime the problem is getting worse, reports Rosenblum: "In Oaxaca, south of Mexico City, women line up at dawn to fill a few plastic containers from a passing water truck. In Alamos, far to the north, ancient aquifers are pumped at five times the sustainable rate."

Appearances are deceptive

Canada is a land of lakes and rivers. And most people would view Canada as having an inexhaustible water supply. By comparison to Africa and other dry places, most of Canada's waters are pristine. But the cumulative effect of mistreatment over the years has taken an evident toll. The cities of Victoria on the west coast and Halifax on the east still dump billions of liters of raw sewage into their oceans. The world's biggest freshwater basin, the Great Lakes, are described as a chemical soup that's not fit to drink or swim in. Some concerned experts view them as loaded with toxic chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides and sewage. Far too many rivers and streams in Canada have been badly contaminated by industrial activity.

We humans can live about a month without food, but only a few days without water. Because 70 percent of the human body is water, quick diets are dramatic at first through water loss. Of all the water in the world, only 2.5 percent is fresh and two thirds of this is locked up in glaciers and ice caps. Nobody knows how much water is underground or in permafrost. All life on earth is sustained by a fraction of one percent of the world's water. If a five-liter jug (about 11⁄3 gallons) represented the world's water, the available fresh water would not quite fill a teaspoon.

Uneven spread

Mexico is only one example of desperation in a world running short of water. Parts of the earth are dying, with fields poisoned by salt and village wells running dry. And there are diplomatic and legal battles looming. The Colorado River, drained by 10 U.S. states with their own water crises, is a muddy trickle by the time it reaches the rich farmland of Baja California. Under complex water agreements with the United States, Mexico can take water from the Rio Grande but must pay it back. President Vicente Fox has promised to pay the debt, which amounts to enough to put the state of Delaware under a foot of water. But with Mexico already so short of water, it isn't realistic to think it can happen.

Consider water distribution around the planet. While Canada and Brazil are water blessed, Saudi Arabia and South Africa are water stressed! The combined renewable water resources of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt are less than those of Nicaragua. Each Canadian has almost 100,000 cubic meters available, while each Kuwaiti has only 95. While 99 percent of the U.S. and Canadian populations have access to safe water, only 53 percent have it in Nicaragua and only 44 percent in Paraguay. Now Las Vegas, Nevada, is a pretty dry place with only 8.9 centimeters (3.5 inches) of annual rainfall. Yet its city planners allow hotels and casinos to build artificial lakes, waterfalls and swimming pools of immense proportion. The contrast: affluent millions enjoy pools and fountains for recreation, while one billion others live without access to adequate drinking water or basic sanitation.

Overall there is plenty of water on the planet, because God made it a habitation for mankind. The huge problem is burgeoning populations in places that lack adequate water resources, as well as mismanagement of available resources. Canada, with only 0.5 percent of the world's population, has 5.6 percent of its usable fresh water supply. China, with 22 percent of the population on earth, has only 5.7 percent of the usable fresh water. We cannot just move fresh water to where it is most needed, like in the Sahara, Ethiopia, Somalia or India.

Is disinfecting the solution?

Disinfecting city water supplies can also cause problems. In January 2000, the Newfoundland government identified dozens of its communities with high levels of potentially dangerous THMs (trihalomethanes) in water supplies. Drinking such water over a long period can cause bladder and colon cancers, but health experts maintain the benefits of sterilizing water far outweigh the small risk of cancers. And so bottled water is booming. But is it safe? Canadian standards for testing bottled water are lower than those for municipal supplies, so there are no assurances that bottled water is any better than tap water.

A great thirst to come

At the start of the 20th century there were 1.65 billion people; 100 years later there are more than 6 billion, and the United Nations estimates there will be nearly 9 billion by 2050. But the annual supply of renewable fresh water will remain the same, so the amount of water available to each person decreases as the population grows, raising the possibility of water shortages. Currently 300 cities in China suffer from water shortages. Hydrologist Peter Gleick wrote in The World's Water 1998-99: "In India, 60 million people have been poisoned by fluoride. Roughly 11,000 children die every day because of a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation. In Bangladesh, one in five water pumps have been found to be contaminated with a high level of arsenic. Water in Nairobi, Kenya, is so scarce that slum dwellers tap into waste water pipelines to get access to the precious, though dirty liquid" (cited in Canada and the World Backgrounder, May 2001).

Good news of abundant water

Today we know our reality. As farm pesticides run off into streams, factories and industries leach their effluent into rivers and mines pour sludge into streams, our water resources are increasingly contaminated and unfit for human use. But look at an almost hard-to-imagine future. Prophesied is a river that actually heals and cleanses everything wherever it flows. This isn't just a dream, but rather a guaranteed promise for mankind from the Creator of all life. Notice what Isaiah says: "The poor and needy seek water, but there is none, their tongues fail for thirst... I [God] will open rivers in desolate heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water" (Isaiah 41:17-18).

At Christ's powerful return to earth, He will initiate a river that will do wondrous things for mankind. "When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there" (Ezekiel 47:8-9). What is pictured is the answer to so many pollution problems. As this river reaches the oceans, all the pollution from oil spills, nuclear submarine contamination and sewage dumped into the seas will be healed. All the depleted fish stocks around the world will be restored.

What a day it is going to be for farmers, fishermen and the environmentally concerned. And no more will thirst be a curse to the planet. No more will the water run dry! WNP

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