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Planning for a World with Light Water

Author: Ali Hussein | Year: 2007

Yemeni tradition teaches that, when Noah’s sons left the ark, each went his separate way. Sam ibn Nuh, or Shem, journeyed to a fertile plain surrounded by mountains. There he built Sana’a, the world’s first city and the capital of Yemen. Sam chose the area because it was relatively dry, or a place “with light water,” as the story goes. And who can blame him after what he’d been through. Today Yemen is drier than ever and is running out fresh water, As a result, its agriculture and people are in danger.(Source: Yemen: The Unknown Arabia by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, pp. 7-8)

Yemenis are not the only ones facing water shortages. The whole Middle East is running out of fresh water and that might not surprise most of you here who think of the Middle East as a vast desert. What may surprise you however, is that Safe, potable water is growing scarce all over the world. Many Chinese are moving from ancestral farms because their rivers are drying up. Indian farmers compete with factories for irrigation water. Japan’s water is becoming more and more polluted, and Australians and Americans are using up water faster than rainfall can replenish it.

These are facts about the world’s water:

§ Seventy percent of Earth’s surface is water, but only 3 percent of that water is fresh water.

§ More than 75 percent of the fresh water is frozen as glaciers in the Antarctica, Greenland and the Alps.

§ Less than one-half of one percent of Earth’s water is available for drinking and irrigation.

§ About 1.1 billion people lack safe drinking water, and as a result 5000 children die each day from waterborne disease

There are some natural causes that can’t be helped such as the uneven distribution of water around the world, but the major culprit is humans. The same amount of water, which supplied the world population of one billion in 1804, must accommodate 6 billion people today. Not only do 6 billion people drink more water, but they also eat more food, which requires more water to grow. Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the water used today. In my country, 50% of the water used in agriculture doesn't go to the food we eat; it goes to a plant called Qat, that Yemenis traditionally chew, which is very tragic. Humans also clear more trees, which are essential to the water cycle that replenishes fresh water; and they generate more waste, which can pollute the water. Inadequate sewage system in many Asian, African and south American cities contributes to water scarcity by polluting the water. In addition, many governments do not repair the old pipes or build the new infrastructure needed to distribute available water. Poor people in slums around the world are forced to buy their water by the bucketful and carry it home. They pay 5 to 10 times what the wealthy in the same cities pay for water.

What are some just and equitable solutions?

One is conservation. Many individuals squander a liter of water for every milliliter they use. Cities can be just as careless. According to the World Water Foundation, daily leaks from London’s aging water pipes could fill 300 Olympic–size pools. Replacing old water pipes secures a city’s water future.

Another solution is protecting the environment. Wetlands and forests help preserve and replenish fresh water. Their destruction is a sure path to water scarcity. Global warming also threatens our water supply. Higher temperatures evaporate the water in rivers and lakes. Also, if the ice caps melt and the oceans rise, salt water will spill into rivers and lakes and make the water undrinkable. So we must reduce air pollution to halt global warming.

A third solution is innovation. Engineers and scientists must develop crops that require less water, fertilizers that cause less pollution,, and irrigation systems that cut out waste. They must also come up with more energy efficient ways to desalinate seawater

A fourth solution is investment. Today many countries spend less than one percent of their national income on water. Increased spending on water distribution and sewage treatment could save the lives of almost 2 million children each year.

In summary, the world is facing a scarcity of fresh water. This problem endangers our food supply and children’s lives. But people can still preserve those blue lines and blobs that represent rivers and lakes on the map of the world. They can do so through conservation, investment, protection of the environment, and innovation.

In a way, the world is Noah’s Ark, and we are its crew. But our mission is different from Noah’s and his sons. We must keep the water flowing to keep our boat afloat.

About the Author:

Ali Hussein Saleh Mohammed from Yemen was the winner of the ESU 26th International Public Speaking Competition on Thursday May 17, 2007. His winning speech topic is Planning for a World with Light Water.

The ESU International Public Speaking Competition:

The English-Speaking Union (ESU) is an international charity founded in 1918 to promote "international understanding and friendship through the use of the English language." ESU has been holding an International Public Speaking competition since 1981. It began with just three participants. In recent years, it has become an international event. The ESU has a network of ESUs world wide in over 50 countries. The winners in each country advance to the finals which are held in London in May each year. In 2008, it had 58 students from 33 different countries, each of whom had already achieved success in their own national competitions.

A specific theme is chosen each year for the competition. For example, in 2007 the theme was “Dynamic Earth” and “New Horizons, New Frontiers” in 2008.

The event lasts one week in London. The winner of the competition will get a trophy as well as a certificate from HRH Prince Philip.

Eligibility: Students aged between 16 and 20 in full-time education
Maximum 2 speakers per country
First Prize
Runner Up
Best Non-Native English Speaker
Audience’s Choice Award

For more details about this competition, please visit: