Ecological economics in the stomach #4 Water


Last week we saw many countries claiming to have the 7 billionth human on this planet.

More than half of the world’s population will live in urban areas, and the populations of many of the world’s cities will likely grow into the tens of millions, of which there are but few today. In those towns piping has to bring water to the many citizens in such condition that the water is able to be used for human consumption.

Most children are not be born in those regions were there seems to be enough water and food to provide. The United Nations warned already several times that people do have to be careful with their sources. The planet’s water resources will come under intense pressure because the population growth is in the developing world and “dwindling water supplies is the environmental issue most often raised in developing countries,” states the UN Population Fund’s State of World Population 2011 report.

The poorest countries, which tend to be tropical, arid and rural, are most vulnerable to extreme weather events including droughts and typhoons that impact crops, forest resources and fisheries, told William Orme, who oversees publication of the UN report.

To be able to feed the growing population and to irrigate the livestock we need water. Water is a vital resource for human health and an essential input for agriculture, tourism, industry, transport and energy. Reduced water availability has a critical impact on hydropower and cooling of nuclear and thermal power stations.
Good environmental status and citizens’ health depend on the quality and availability of fresh water. However, they are decreasing. Climate change is projected to increase water shortages as well as the intensity and frequency of floods. Many European river basins and waters have been altered by water abstraction, land drainage and dams, leading often to poor water quality with major adverse ecological effects, possible health impacts and leaving limited space for natural habitats.
20% to 40% of Europe’s water is wasted and water efficiency could be improved by 40% through technological improvements alone13. An improved approach for a sustainable management of water resources requires close coordination with agriculture, transport, regional development and energy policies as well as effective and fair water pricing as required by the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Changes in ecosystems, land use, in production and water consumption and re-use patterns could cost-effectively reduce scarcity and ensure water quality.

Droughts and floods

Impacts of droughts and floods should become minimised, with adapted crops, increased water retention in soils and efficient irrigation. Alternative water supply options should only relied upon when all cheaper savings opportunities are taken. Water abstraction should stay below 20% of available renewable water resources and we should safeguard Europe’s water defining a cost-effective strategy (on-going). But there should also be a control on the pricing of this so needy drink water. Though it could be best that there is a incentive by better demand management through economic instruments (pricing, water allocation) and use of labelling and certification schemes measuring life-cycle impact and virtual water content of products.
EU Member States should set water efficiency targets for 2020 at River Basin level, with appropriate complementary measures, based on a common EU methodology that takes into account the variety of situations across economic sectors and geographic areas.

Environmental conditions

Environmental conditions are important not only for sustainability, but also because of their immediate impact on the quality of people’s lives. First, they affect human health both directly (through air and water pollution, hazardous substances and noise) and indirectly (through climate change, transformations in the carbon and water cycles, biodiversity loss and natural disasters that affect the health of ecosystems). Secondly, people benefit from environmental services, such as access to clean water and recreation areas, and their rights in this field (including rights to access environmental information) have been increasingly recognized. Third, people value environmental amenities or disamenities, and these valuations affect their actual choices (e.g. of where to live). Lastly, environmental conditions may lead to climatic variations and natural disasters, such as drought and flooding, which damage both the properties and the lives of the affected populations.

Significantly, ecosystems and agriculture also suffer damage from airborne impacts such as acidification, eutrophication and ozone damage to vegetation. For that reason policy-makers should should make their voters aware of the necessary measures we all have to take to keep the air clean.
Clean air is a precious resource. Several air quality standards are widely exceeded in the EU’smost densely populated areas, especially from the most problematic pollutants such as particulate matter, ground-level ozone, and nitrogen dioxide. Despite significant efforts to reduce polluting emissions, current concentrations of fine particles cause 500 000 premature deaths each year in the EU and immediate neighbourhood. (EEA, SOER 2010)

Map of GDP per capita (PPP) of EU member state...

Percentage of renewables in primary energy consumption of EU-member states in 2005. It is based on Image:European-union-renewables.svg. Data source - Image via Wikipedia

The previous years we hear about a lot of ill persons because of the bad air. Due to air pollution induced illnesses lots of of working days were lost and brought an extra cost to consumer and other goods. But it caused also people to die.

There would have to be changes in trade rules and land use so that the food supply line to importing countries becomes stronger and more resilient, thus easing the price shocks that hit producer or customer. But producers should have to be made aware that they do have to take into account the environment. The communities should strengthen their efforts to integrate biodiversity protection and ecosystem actions in other Community policies with a particular focus on agriculture and fisheries (continuous). Member States of the European Union, with the Commission, will have to work towards the objectives of the Biodiversity Strategy by integrating the value of ecosystem services into policy-making (continuous).

For that reason governments and people should be at the look out that food safety has top priority. When we make reasonable choices and try to go back to our own national products, then we should be able to feed 10 or 15 billion people. But in reality, the riches will not eat less to avoid the hunger of the poor and food production is only one possible land use and one can expect that land use for energy crops grows even more than land use for food production. So under the business as usual scenario, food production will develop as before with more food on less land, and more fish from fish farms, but because there are more people, the poorer of them will starve as the poorest do now.

From a quality-of-life perspective, existing indicators remain limited in important respects. For example, emissions indicators refer mainly to the aggregate quantities of various pollutants, rather than to the share of people exposed to dangerous doses. Existing indicators should hence be supplemented in a number of ways, including the regular monitoring of the number of premature deaths from exposure to air pollution; the number of people who lack access to water services and nature, or who are exposed to dangerous levels of noise and pollution; and the damage inflicted by environmental disasters. Survey measures of people’s own feelings and evaluations of the environmental conditions of their neighbourhood are also needed. Because many of the effects of environmental conditions on quality of life differ across people, these indicators should refer to people grouped according to various classification criteria.

Paul Ehrlich, professor of population studies at Stanford University, who has become the modern day equivalent of Malthus, the 18th-century English clergyman who popularised the idea that the number of people would eventually outstrip food production, said:  “Among the knowledgeable people there is no more conversation about whether the danger is real,”

“Civilisations have collapsed before: the question is whether we can avoid the first time an entire global civilisation has given us the opportunity of having the whole mess collapse.”

The idea sounds melodramatic, but Ehrlich insists his vision only builds on famine, drought, poverty and conflict, which are already prevalent around the world, and would unfold over the “next few decades”.

“What it would look like is getting to the situation where more and more people are living in uncertainty about their future, subject to all kinds of disease,” he said. “The really big discontinuity you can’t predict is even a small nuclear war between [say] India and Pakistan.

“Of course a new emerging disease or toxic problem could alone [also] trigger a collapse. My pessimism is deeply tied to the human failure to do anything about these problems, or even recognise or talk about them.”

A growing population would not harm our system when we take care to use the land to place all those people and to feed them. We could support a lot more people on the planet. But that would require a different attitude of all of us.  We should put away our aims to have everything. We should abandon the greediness which rule this world at the moment. If humans were willing to share equally, but they don’t: we want to design a world where everybody can lead a decent life without everybody being fair. but because a lot of people would not try to take the other into account, it shall have to come from the higher regions to get the people used to take an acceptable stance and leaving an acceptable inheritance for the next generations. Yes perhaps Europe, the United Nations of America, Russia, China and other big states shall have to impose laws to protect not only their inhabitants but to take into account the whole world population in respect to the flora and fauna.

Agricultural productivity is in certain regions continuing to grow rapidly, while in others they are killing the planet. Though with a little bit of good sense and sensible control  ten billion people could be supported at present levels of technology, though it will require improvements to support them at our consumption rate. We quickly should get to a global shift towards a vegan diet which is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change. “Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

But we may also not loose out of sight the importance of drinkable water. And we may not forget that substituting fish for meat would not be a solution, as some think. If the amount of tamed fish doubles every ten years as it has been doing, it will pass wild fish in less than 20 years, but those fish farms have a bad impact on the ecological situation. Today we can already find a sixth of the world’s people who now derive more than a third of their animal protein (compared to a world average of about 16 percent) from the sea. In Europe there has been going on overfishing for years and now we are confronted with not enough sorts of fish and some extinct.

While the fractions of national economies devoted to fishing in the major industrialized nations may not be as large as those in the developing countries, the sometimes large fluctuations in the abundance of fish stocks has had significant impacts on coastal communities in Japan, Indonesia, eastern Canada, New England, and Alaska, to cite but a few examples.

The commercial harvesting of fish in ocean waters has been often marked by controversy and contention, ranging from disagreements among fishermen to major international confrontations. In Belgium we all know the big battles which went on concerning the cod, plaice and  sole. The Flemish Cap, Grand Banks, Icelandic waters and the contested “doughnut hole” in the north Pacific Ocean near Alaska can deliver nice documentaries on Discovery Channel having the skippers fighting the waters but in the offices needing a captain or master mariner to bring it to a good end trying to figure out how stocks in a given area should be divided among those who are allowed access, and which damage to the environment or harm inflicted on other species such as marine mammals is been done and can be decreased.

Watching those vast amounts of waters the oceans provide it is not drinking water and it is a very sensible ecosystem. The side effects of global warming make a big difference for it, specifically the interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere that affect the movement of water in the sea. “Changes in surface winds could have a large impact on fisheries in that they would alter both the delivery of nutrients into the photic zone and the strength and distribution of ocean currents. Significant changes in ocean currents will affect the transport of larval stages of fish and alter upwelling and exchange of water over highly productive banks.” Brian J. Rothschild warned. “In addition, the rise in sea level of the amount projected by the IPCC would have an undeniable effect on the commerce in fish, since about 70 percent of global fish resources spend critical parts of their lives near the shore or near the mouths of rivers. Any change in marshes or wetlands, or in the extent to which seawater intrudes into rivers, would be felt by many ocean fish. For shellfish–that live almost exclusively near the shore–a sufficiently rapid rise in sea level could tax their ability to relocate: a shift in habitat that would also be constrained by the roads and other structures that now mark so much of the shoreline. A sea-level change would also have significant impacts on the existing facilities of what is now a large aquaculture industry.”

As mentioned on the meeting at the European Parliament last Friday we shall have to be aware that the fragility of people depends on the many factors which encounter us and provide either a base to survive or to come into poverty. If we do not want to take our environment as something fragile we do have to embrace with love we shall come into a lot of problems. Our community will require a broad acceptance of food as a basic human right, an increased food availability that is far in excess of increased population, an extensive growth in household income, and a pervasive safety net of emergency assistance, entitlements, and special needs programs.

Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: “Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation.”
The panel, which drew on numerous studies including the Millennium ecosystem assessment, cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.



  1. The report of the commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress
    chaired by Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz, Columbia University. Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, was Chair Adviser. Professor Jean-Paul Fitoussi, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, President of the Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE), was Coordinator of the Commission. Members of the Commission are renowned experts from universities, governmental and intergovernmental organisations, in several countries (USA, France, United Kingdom, India). Rapporteurs and secretariat have been provided by the French national statistical institute (Insee), OFCE, and OECD.
    Report of the commission on the measurement of economic performance et social progress
    , PDF file, 3 235 Ko
  2. The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe the European Commission presented a major breakthrough in a ‘life saving project’.


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About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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6 Responses to Ecological economics in the stomach #4 Water

  1. xandimusic says:

    great article!
    Everyone should reduce his water wastage!
    I hope, many people’ll read your articles to know more about these problems! 😉


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