Pic above: Victoria Falls usually. Pic below: Victoria Trickles: during current drought
This dry autumn (2019) the majestic Victoria Falls have been reduced to a trickle. The cascades that usually bring thousands of tourists to this natural wonder have been hit with the worst drought in a century. The Zambian president, Edgar Lungu, has called the scene “a stark reminder of what climate change is doing to our environment.” Seasonal water variations are typical, yet the frequency of the droughts and their intensity are what is frightening Victoria’s residents. So what is causing so many rivers, lakes and cascades to run dry?
The answer to this question is two-fold. The first as climate change intensifies many areas in the world will suffer from increased temperatures, unpredictable rainfalls and long droughts—as is the case with the Victoria Falls above. The second reason is that we currently undervalue water. Water is seen as un inalienable right meaning that its price is below what it should be. This would be great if most freshwater were used for household and personal consumption. However, did you know that 70% of freshwater in the world is used for agriculture? (mainly cattle ranching, rice and cotton). So taking long showers has a much smaller water footprint than curbing your meat consumption.
Our undervalue for water has created absurd agricultural practices. For example growing alfalfa sprouts (used for cattle feed) in arid Arizona, or opening a beer factory in the Mexicali desert. Both alfalfa and beer require unimaginable quantities of water. So why have these corporations opened in areas where water is scarce? The explanation behind this is that capital is king, and governments are bending to corporate needs instead of protecting their populations’ right to water.
This has created a hype of “water investments” which today are on everyone’s tongues. Dubbed “the Petroleum of the 21st Century” freshwater is running out worldwide, with Day Zeroes approaching metropolises of the likes of: Mexico City, Sao Paulo and London. Yet the true difference between petroleum and water? As humans we truly cannot function without water, not even for a day, which is what is triggering water wars and conflicts over this precious resource. Clearly new and higher standards must be put in place, where freshwater is expensive and over-valued so corporations would never fathom starting a water-intensive business somewhere arid and would invest in agricultural methods that save water rather than waste it.
Our water sources must be protected or it will soon come back to haunt us, and sooner than you think. Just ask Cape Town, or the Colorado River or Lake Chad or… the Victoria Falls.
The 17 countries that will soon face water-stress