This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Don't Drink the Water--Chinese Style

We humans need water to survive. And clean water at that, because polluted water is bad for your health. Indeed, as Justin Stoler has detailed in his research, "pure" water sold in sachets throughout West Africa may well prevent children from getting diarrhea which can lead to an early death. Now, I admit that whenever I travel outside the U.S. I routinely buy bottled water because I'm never sure where the local water might be coming from, but I was still amazed to read in this week's Economist that there is a huge demand for bottled water in China due to concerns about water quality.
Hygiene and health concerns among China’s rising middle class have stoked demand as more migrate to cities, where water is more polluted and the bottled sort more common (typically, 19-litre barrels installed in homes). In 2009 the World Bank said water problems cost the country over 2% of GDP every year—mostly due to damage to health. In 2013 thousands of rotting pigs’ carcasses were found in the Huangpu river, which supplies four-fifths of tap water to Shanghai, China’s most populous city. Last April, in the industrial city of Lanzhou in the north-west, a leak from an oil company’s pipeline poisoned tap water for 2.4m locals with carcinogenic benzene. And even if water meets drinking standards at source, it can be harmful by the time it reaches the tap after coursing through decaying pipelines.
Yikes! That really is disgusting. Of course, if the Chinese went back to more vegetables and fewer pigs, things might start to improve. Still, the article points out that China has 20% of the worlds' population, but only 7% of the global freshwater supply. That doesn't sound sustainable to me. The article suggests that one of the penalties of higher urban incomes in China is going to be the cost of daily consuming imported bottled water. Now, if they could just import cleaner urban air...

1 comment:

  1. John Weeks

    This is far from being a trivial issue. You are absolutely correct that people need CLEAN air and water to survive.

    However, as our planet becomes more populated and has greater economic activity (sometimes with much greater economic exploitation as well), the number of people who have clean air and water is reducing rapidly. If we don't do something to maintain good environmental standards, we will be LIVING in a world where you can only have clean air and water if you pay for it. Imagine a future "scenario" where you are thirsty, and so you pay a sidewalk vendor $5 for a cup of purified water. Or $5 for 10-minutes to breathe purified air with added oxygen. And that is your taste of "pure Mother Earth" for the whole day! This may seem somewhat foreign today ... but it is a very likely scenario in the year 2065.

    In Africa, the typical survival age for "street people" who live in ghettos is 30 years old. That's because they routinely drink water and eat food (refuse) that is badly polluted. Today, we are fortunate that most human beings do not suffer this horrendous existence. But 50 years from now, a much larger percentage of the population could be in the same category.

    I drink most of my water - from plastic bottles. That is how it is delivered to me. In the city of Los Angeles, this is how a lot of people live. It has been a LONG TIME since I drank fresh water from a pure mountain stream!

    Recently I attended a protest where Native Americans are trying to defend their rights to use "sacred land" for traditional purposes. That land is under threat - because people who value economic exploitation (i.e. mining companies) see a "value" in digging a huge hole, extracting the rock, and leaving a polluted gravel pit when they are finished. Apparently it is "no-one's responsibility" when the local ground water is polluted for decades, after the exploitation is finished. Ironically, most Americans have a dramatic misunderstanding of what Native Americans actually believe. Native Americans are not trying to save the land so that they can practice "mystical ancestor worship". They actually view the PRSTINE LAND with PRISTINE CLEAN WATER as an essential sacred thing. In other words, environmental quality is a sacred religious right to them. As such, they are actually spearheading a movement to try to preserve some parts of the planet, so that we avoid situations like China - benzene contamination in the water supply.

    YES - we have the option of "drowning in our own filth" on Mother Earth ... if we do not act responsibly. It is a real future scenario. I hope that it does not happen!

    Pete, Redondo Beach, CA