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Fresh water Earth’s most precious commodity

September 13, 2011

Fresh water Earth’s most precious commodity

While the many conflicts over oil have been a staple diet for our media outlets since black gold was first discovered, conflict over water is less widely reported—but it happens, too. The Six Day War, in June 1967, was the culmination of rising tension between Israel and its Arab neighbors. One of the causes of this tension was Israel diverting water from the River Jordan, to help irrigate the Negev Desert. In response, Syria tried to divert water away from Israel, but the construction work was destroyed by Israeli forces.

It’s estimated that within 20 years, the demand for freshwater will outstrip supply by up to 40%. If this is the case, then we can expect to see more conflicts fought over water than ever before.

Although water covers around 70% of the Earth’s surface, 97% of it is salt water, contained in oceans, seas and bays. This leaves just 3% of fresh water contained on the earth’s surface. Of this, 2.4% is contained as ice in glaciers and polar caps, with only 0.6% in the form of freshwater bodies such as lakes or rivers.

In fact, by far the largest supply of the world’s fresh water (around 1.6 %) lies below ground, in aquifers. For example, the Ogallala aquifer, found beneath the Great Plains, in the U.S., covers around 174,000 square miles. The aquifer supplies drinking water to around 82% of people that live within its borders.

The challenge for groundwater, as with oil, is to locate it and extract it—but there’s more. Unlike oil, many of the Earth’s aquifers are naturally replenished...albeit slowly. So the added challenge with this planet’s most valuable commodity is to manage the resources effectively to ensure that supply doesn’t exceed replenishment.

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