Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Priorities

This entry was triggered after reading some of the season's numbers pulled from ThomasNet. Initially, I was intrigued by the volume of global shipments around this time of year. For example, UPS will deliver 240 packages every second through its network on December 20th. Other numbers such as how much the average shopper (in the US) is expected to spend this year on holiday merchandise($791.10) and the value of total retail e-commerce sales for the fourth quarter of 2005 ($27.1 billion) were a subnote for me.

Then, on boxer's day, I went to my annual breakfast get-together with close friends. We have been holding these reunions for the past couple of years to discuss global issues and how we could help each other. There, I recalled a statistic from an article on the number of cigarettes smoked annually. 5.7 Trillion (10^12) cigarettes. If one assumes a cigarette costs 5 cents on average globally, $285 billion goes up in smoke annually.

Further into the discussion and after many coffees, an additional two data points were put on the table - the cost of war and development aid. The cost of just one conflict almost equals the value of global annual development aid. A civil war in a low-income country could cost $54 billion compared to the worldwide aid budget in 2004 which was $78.6 billion.

If we contrast the spending numbers against the development and the global poverty numbers such as the fact 50% of the world's population lives on less than $2 per day and of these 1.1 billion people live on $1 or less per day; one could only reach the conclusion that we are not putting our priorities in the right places.

In other words, shifting some of the spending from war, cigarettes or other areas could solve many of our society's pressing problems from overcrowded hospitals, disease, education, ... The real issue seems to be a question of priorities from individuals to institutions to governments.

What do you think?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Speech on water @ Irrigation Modernization Symposium

International Symposium on Irrigation Modernization: Constraints and Solutions
Nabil Beitinjaneh
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, NOSSTIA
28 March 2006

Opening remarks

All of us have heard the expression “water is life”, a beautifully simple slogan – or is it?? In the past little while, I was wondering if we have masked the true nature and complexity of the water challenge we face through the use of such an simple expression.

Coming here, I had a very long trip which gave me the opportunity to explore the expression with different people along the way. Here follows are my learnings:

Most knew that more than 60% of our body is composed of water and 70% of the surface of the earth is covered by water. However, they were quite surprised to know that less than 2.5% of that water is fresh water and only 1% is accessible.

When they are told that distribution is a huge issue for water, most viewed it as a problem that has been solved… just open the faucet! Discussing the World Water Council’s (WWC) statistics that approximately 30 countries suffer chronic fresh water shortages, they only think of Africa… However, the WWC foresees approximately 50 countries by the year 2025 including countries in South Eastern Asia. This includes emerging economies such as India.

Most implicitly understood that we use more water today than anytime in our past. If you tell them that demand for water in the last century has increased 6 times, twice the population increase; they shake their heads in disbelief.

When you tell them that Darfour is only a continuation of resource wars in the region. For this statement, you get many other examples.

An interesting discussion happens every time you discuss water usage with them. 66% of fresh water used is for irrigation of which 50% is not used. They are quite impressed by this statistic. I was quite impressed when I learned that to produce 1 kg of wheat, 1 metric ton of water is required. This is the equivalent of 650 bottles of bottled (Boukein) water approximately.


Even scarier are the World Health Organization’s (WHO) statistics which state that approximately 5000 children 5 years and under die every day around the world because they do not have access to clean water and sanitation. If we take this in context, this is the equivalent of 10% of Syria’s population. For these children and their parents, water is life.


As a society we have not internalized the fact that even though water is a renewable resource, it is scarce and its true cost is higher than we expect.

To change behaviors, we have to go back and explain the true richness of the expression “water is life”.

We have to learn from our history and the experiences of others. I recall reading in history books about al-Ghouta and the 7 rivers of Damascus.

As decision makers, business owners, civil society, parents, family members, we have to encourage the adoption of a scientific approach towards water issues. We also have to take advantage of the fact that scientist love a challenge by giving them the data and information they require to further their research. We also have to make tough decisions as we cannot break the laws of physics or change them. What we can change are the physical systems, processes and peoples beliefs towards water to get different outcomes to better use what we have.

Water usage is becoming a competitive advantage to those who know how to integrate it into a bigger whole which includes the environment and the economy.

We are all here to learn from each other and focus on the challenges of water irrigation and the experiences of many experts locally and internationally.

Some final points

  • Time is of the essence here
  • Take advantage of the formal and informal networks you form
  • Discuss, challenge and ask lots of questions
  • Enjoy your stay in beautiful Damascus. There is a lot to see…

Thank you for being here.

[End]

References:

Costing MDG Target 10 on water supply and sanitation: comparative analysis, obstacles and recommendations. March 2006. World Water Council, World Water Forum. http://194.242.113.59/index.php?id=3&L=0

Evolution of Water withdrawals and consumption since 1900, powerpoint, World Water Council. http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/fileadmin/wwc/

Geography 210: Introduction to Environmental Issues. 8.6 Water Management and Conservation http://mail.taramaki.com/index.cgi?redirect=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.geog.ouc.bc.ca%2Fconted%2Fonlinecourses%2Fgeog_210%2F210_8_6.html×tamp=1144759467&md5=AMbvuYnxx43CSnFTlvqqWA%3D%3D

World Water Facts http://mail.taramaki.com/index.cgi?redirect=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pbs.org%2Fnow%2Fscience%2Fwater2.html×tamp=1144759467&md5=AMbvuYnxx43CSnFTlvqqWA%3D%3D

Water at a Glance. World Water Council. http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/index.php?id=5
GEO-2000, Global Environment Outlook. Chapter Five: Outlook and Recommendations, UNEP, http://www.unep.org/Geo2000/english/0243.htm