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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
. . . until there's not a drop to drink. Rivers, such as the Rio Grande and Colorado in the US, the Aral Sea in Russia and the deep aquifers in India are disappearing. Human use, particularly for large-scale agriculture, is drawing more water than Nature can replenish. Water is being channeled, impeded or diverted, and contained. The result is the natural flow of water being severely altered in places around the world. In this captivating and rather disturbing account, Fred Pearce describes how the flow has been altered by us and what the results of our tampering portends.

Pearce is not afaid of numbers. Think for a moment of what a "cubic kilometre" of water suggests. What lies about a kilometre from your house? Project that distance sideways and upward and envision the area filled with water. Multiply that by 10, by 100, then consider those amounts flowing by every minute, every day, every year. The image can only be called "imposing". These are the values the author deals with in describing rivers, underground aquifers, diversion canals and hydroelectric dams. Too often, the number that was and the one that is today are drastically different.

Once, irrigation was the diversion of a small portion of a river's content. Now, entire rivers pour into fields for crops. Much of that water seeps away unused or evaporates. When there are many farmers "abstracting" water, legally or illegally, Pearce notes, the result is deprivation elsewhere. Treaties written to share water resources may be rendered invalid by such abstractions, since natural replenishment cannot keep pace. The Nile has been a source of contention for millennia. Even the British Isles, usually considered eternally green and damp, is suffering droughts. Recently, a deal between the US and Mexico has left the latter nation in a "water debt". Mexico must shift water from it's own farmer's fields to pay it off. The debt, of course, is due to water abstracted far up the Rio Grande to fill swimming pools and keep golf courses green.

Great dams, once heralded to protect water resources, are now known to cause immense problems. Some evaporate water faster than the inflow can replenish it. Other times heavy storms threaten the dam's structural integrity requiring the operators to release massive discharges flooding downstream farms and communities. Silting, always constant in rivers, lead to reduced capacity. The real threat today, says Pearce, is that the sources for the water the dams are supposed to contain are shrivelling - the mountain glaciers that feed the streams filling the dams. The adding of more dams over the 45 000 already existing will not provide more water. For one thing, all the best sites are taken.

These changes in water availability are happening rapidly and are becoming serious international issues. North of the contested Nile, Israel's water policy is draining the resource away from Palestinian communities. Israel's control over the area's water is nearly absolute, leaving the Palestinians to buy tanker water. On the subcontinent, not only is India struggling with its neighbours over water, internal squabbling among States and communities is rife. Farmers, having lost water to dams and other diversions, are drilling boreholes to tap underground aquifers. They told Pearce they're aware the water tables are dropping because wells dry up and new bores must be drilled. "We have to get the water as long as we can" - and every farmer is in contention with his neighbours for the resource.

Water, of course, recycles. Except where it's weighed down by pollutants, water will rise to become rain. The rains are erratic and local reliability is declining. Pearce offers some suggestions about trapping water. Fog, it seems, offers a ready resource in certain areas and it suitable for pasturage or gardens. Trapping the rains with checkdams to limit runoff is a growing method, particularly in hilly areas. For agriculture, the "drip feed" offers the most promise for crops.

Pearce's masterful and comprehensive account is long overdue. While many studies have focussed on climate change and unconstrained pollution of the atmosphere, he demonstrates the effect of these conditions on the ground. If the water isn't there to nourish the crops, we don't eat - it's as simple as that. Relying heavily on personal observation and interviews to produce this book, the author presents it as an account all can understand. That's an admirable aim. He provides maps, but doesn't overload the reader with charts and graphs. The only lack in this book is references to the source of his staggering numbers. Few, if any, will doubt their veracity, however. It is, after all, the history and future trends that remain the foundation of this book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2006
We can do without oil.... well if we work hard to.

We can't do without water, and despite the earth having 1.4 bn cubic kilometers of it, 97% of the water is sea water that we cannot drink.

forget washing the car, or flushing the loo, do you realise it takes 5,000 litres of water to grow 1 kilo of rice?

Or a kilo of coffee a massive 20,000 litres of water?

We need to think about how we live and the impact of how we live and make changes now.

Very glad I read the book - I would recommend it to everybody.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is one of those books that has a point to make but does it by presenting the facts and allows you to draw your own conclusions. It is very relevent to the UK at the moment with hose pipe bans in the SEast etc.

I was shocked to read that so many rivers now don't actually make it to the sea anymore, ie the Yellow River in China, the RIO Grande in the US, the list goes on and on. Fred Pearce also presents the analysis of how much water each country is using to grow stuff, ie up to 5000 litres to grow 1 kilo of rice that you can buy in Tesco for £1.50, or up to 4,000 litres to water a field to grow grass for a cow to eat and produce 1 litre of milk for 89p is all insane.

Jumping from the UK to Africa to Asia and the US, this is a catalogue of decisions, all made with the best intentions that have actually caused more damage to the people they were supposed to be helping.

It is written in a very readable style and very worth buying just so that you can make your own decisions about how you use water.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2006
Fred Pearce gives a clear and insightful account of the how water is used and abused around the world. He doesn't just focus on the envronmental issues but explores the political, social and economical issues of water use. A fantastic read that raises many questions and comes up with some solutions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a clear and concise look at world hydrology and the way water is being (mis)managed in various countries. It is extremely easy to read and has plenty of facts to both shock and amaze you. The state of the worlds water resources is in dire trouble and this book highlights just what has caused these problems and thankfully some possible solutions. After reading many books about oil and the oil peak, this books makes you realise that our anxiety may well be misplaced and unless we can act soon, our future will be a much harder one. Highly recommended read.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 August 2007
Fred Pearce crams 2 decades of research into hydrology in one magnificently well written book that most certainly does "make the reader sound intelligent" after reading it.

There is a deep sense of optimism despite the gloomy picture presented. Mankind has a long hard road to travel and if we do not heed nature's own warnings and have a "blue revolution" soon we will no doubt see much hunger and suffering in the next 25 years. Politicians and farmers would (also) do well to read this book.

Read this book!!!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2007
I found plenty of interesting material in this book although the somewhat journalistic style (read sound-bite) made me feel the need to verify much of what was said. Most of the things that I checked were accurate. Some viewpoints expressed appeared to be the more extreme of those on the net and I wondered whether they were chosen solely for their shock-factor.
That said, overall this is quite a clear laymans guide to a doubtless complex issue and I found a good introduction to a potentially dull topic.
It certainly left me with the desire to know more.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
... to fill the dry rivers. The "green revolution", introduced primarily in Asia to grow food for ever-growing populations, has been just one of a range of water-guzzling agricultural systems leading to rivers running dry and water tables sinking to dangerous levels. There are others of course, such as water wastage by urban populations and industry. But nothing takes so much of the world's most precious liquid as agriculture. Water, the ultimate renewable resource at the global level, is becoming scarce in many places where it is needed for the survival of plants, animals, and societies. Fred Pearce has criss-crossed the planet investigating a multitude of specific cases where water has literally disappeared and the land been destroyed through salinization, wind erosion and chemical pollution. In others, people continue to waste water for short-term profit as if nobody else was needing some of it. Many books are appearing on water scarcity and explaining how necessary new thinking on water management is needed at all levels, Pearce takes a direct approach and personalizes his findings. He imparts his discussions with local farmers, community and business leaders, environmental protection agents, politicians and scientists. The approach makes this a very accessible book despite the sombre topic. It is not only ample food for thought but also a call for action and participation. He reminds us forcefully "we all live downstream" from somebody else.

Pearce discusses the overexploitation by commercial agriculture of aquifers, water resources that have been stored in the earth for thousands of years. Cotton and water-intensive crops like rice and alfalfa [for fodder] are being grown despite the dramatically sinking water tables. Rivers are tapped without regard to the danger these "abstractions" cause for the whole watershed and ecosystem. Rivers are rerouted and dammed to supply water to urban areas or industries in dryer regions. Reservoirs are constructed to build up water reserves without taking into account that evaporation levels that can more than offset any calculated benefit. Pearce describes some of the most dramatic examples in China. In addition to the well-known Three Gorges Dam project, there are others that literally require moving mountains to get water from the water-rich south to the dryer north. He indicates that there are alternatives being discussed among local scientists.

Rerouting rivers and eliminating the wetlands that allow for natural flood cycles have been common in many places. The results have been dramatically demonstrated during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the spectacular floods in Central Europe during the last few years. Nature has a way of getting back at these interferences, Pearce demonstrates.

Water resources are a major cause for conflict in and between states. With growing water scarcity these conflicts will increase and explode into wars. One of the most serious and potentially explosive situations exists between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians have lost access to their water resources and are prevented by law or the new "security fence" from finding new ones. Negotiations based on mutual respect and understanding are indispensable to reverse the conflictual circumstances where several countries share river systems, such as the Nile, Brahmaputra, Rio Grande and others.

What is being done? Pearce shares success stories from past and present to demonstrate what can be achieved by taking a different, more ethical, approach to water as a precious and shared resource. Water can be harvested from rain and fog, assisting the replenishment of local water tables. Water flows during floods can be reduced through check dams and other traditional methods that allow the water to sink into the ground rather than run off taking valuable topsoil with it. Examples of water conservation programs are many, demonstrating also that different techniques can be combined, such as water harvesting and flood controls. For example, Southern California receives fifty percent of the water it needs through rain. "We should be catching our own rain before trying to buy other people's," responded one L.A. environmentalist to Pearce.

While Pearce's book is political in the sense of water management and national policies, it does not tackle one of the key international political debates: water as a "commodity" versus as a vital resource. The privatization of water management systems around the world and its impacts, while of highest importance to people and their right to safe and accessible water, is not addressed here. As other reviewers noted, references to sources are not included. It diminishes the research value of the book to some degree. Still, this "journey into the heart of the world's water crisis" is essential reading for all of us. We all have a role to play to prevent rivers from running dry completely. [Friederike Knabe]
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This is a clear and concise look at world hydrology and the way water is being (mis)managed in various countries. It is extremely easy to read and has plenty of facts to both shock and amaze you. The state of the worlds water resources is in dire trouble and this book highlights just what has caused these problems and thankfully some possible solutions. After reading many books about oil and the oil peak, this books makes you realise that our anxiety may well be misplaced and unless we can act soon, our future will be a much harder one. Highly recommended read.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 16 February 2010
This is serious eye opener to the water crisis we will face in the future if we do not stop some of our water usage practices especially dams and irrigation in dry places. A must read. I could hardly put the book down.
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