Thursday, July 30, 2015

Big, Bigger, ...Burst

With a population a nudging 1.4-billion, China is the world's most populous nation. Overall it has the 80th highest population density, about 142 people per sq. km.  Neighbouring India, in 33rd place overall, comes in at a very conservative figure of 368 people per sq. km.  Canada, by comparison, stands in 230th place with a population density of 3.4 per sq. km.

It's now reported that India's population is growing fast enough that it will overtake China in total numbers in just six years, 2022.

But numbers alone don't give an accurate picture. Like most places, people in India and China are living longer - more consumption years per capita - and enough of them are living better, some of them far better, than ever before - which means a larger per capita environmental footprint.  More energy, more resources, more production, more consumption, more waste and pollution.

A huge problem looms from the manner in which all this growth, human and economic, is being managed or mismanaged.  China, with 20% of the world's population but just 7% of the world's water is running out of the one thing we cannot live very long without - water.

Efforts to boost supply have provided temporary relief for major cities, but the central government is scrambling to preserve what water is left. Expanded conservation work, higher water prices, and new industrial regulations are on the table.

“The demand is growing but the supply is shrinking,” says Zhang Yan, program coordinator of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global environmental organization in Beijing. “There is just less and less water.”

The problem is made all the worse by the significant percentage of China's surface water - rivers and lakes - already too contaminated to be fit for human consumption. Yet water shortages aren't standing in the way of Chinese plans to transform Beijing into a "super city" of 130-million people.  That's about four times the entire population of Canada living in one metropolitan area. (If you follow the link, there's a great video revealing what life is already like for ordinary Chinese living in that area).

It's not just Asia plagued by water woes from burgeoning populations and lack of infrastructure.  Take Rio de Janiero, the proud host of next year's Summer Olympics.  Be glad you didn't make it to compete in any of the aquatic events.

Athletes in next year's Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

Despite decades of official pledges to clean up the mess, the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio's international airport. Prime beaches are deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake, Rodrigo de Freitas, littered with rotting fish.

"What you have there is basically raw sewage," said John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Griffith examined the protocols, methodology and results of the AP tests.

"It's all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it's going out into the beach waters. Those kinds of things would be shut down immediately if found here," he said, referring to the U.S.

...Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

...Training earlier this month in Guanabara Bay, Austrian sailor David Hussl said he and his teammates take precautions, washing their faces immediately with bottled water when they get splashed by waves and showering the minute they return to shore. And yet Hussl said he's fallen ill several times.

"I've had high temperatures and problems with my stomach," he said. "It's always one day completely in bed and then usually not sailing for two or three days."

It's believed some teams are training in Rio in order that their athletes, through repeated infection, can build up some degree of immunity in time for the games. What is this, the World Cup?

Closer to home, city officials in Toledo, Ohio are bracing for a return of the toxic algae bloom that cut off the city's Lake Erie water supply last summer.

Toledo has detected the first signs in Lake Erie of the dangerous toxin that resulted in a water crisis last year that left 400,000 people in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan without safe tap water for two days.

Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and city officials announced late Monday that the intake mechanisms that draw Toledo's drinking water from Lake Erie detected a toxin that can cause liver and kidney damage, The Blade reported (

The mayor says the city's drinking water remains safe but she has updated the status of the water to a "Watch" category. The next stage, "Caution," means a toxin has been detected in tap water but the level isn't great enough to require an advisory.

A severe toxic algae outbreak on the lake's western end — where the toxin was recently detected — was forecast after heavy rains in June washed huge amounts of algae-feeding phosphorus into the lake.

Unfortunately whether it's oceanic "dead zones", blue-green algae contamination of lakes and rivers, untreated sewage discharge or industrial pollution, it's become a world wide problem to which no country is immune and it's a problem which no country seems to be solving.


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