||When the Rivers Run Dry
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
08 Mar 2010
A world tour of hydrological madness
If ever I were to write a book on water, this could be the one. When the Rivers Run Dry seems an unfinished title for an unflinching look at the current water crises across the world. Fred Pearce, an accomplished science writer, elucidates the remaining half of the title in ten riveting sections to the book. Based on author's travels across thirty countries, the book provides most complete portrait of growing hydrological crises and its widespread ramifications for us all.
Pearce contends that the West is committing hydrological suicide with its water 'footprint'. One ton of water for drinking, about 50 to 100 tons around the home and as much as 2,000 tons to grow the crops that feed and clothe a person during a year cannot sustain humanity for long. And if you buy a t-shirt made of Pakistani cotton, eat Thai rice or drink coffee from Costa Rica, you may be helping reduce flow in the Indus, the Mekong and in the Amazon. Called 'virtual water trade', it uses about 1,000 cubic kilometers of water annually or the equivalent of 20 River Niles.
It really is as stark as that. Pearce has gone to great lengths to show the reader what has gone wrong with our civic and personal attitude to water use the world over, and by highlighting some of these diminishing or dried up water sources, we must rethink our actions. The immensely readable prose is no simple manual for the consumer to be less wasteful in the home; it is about such compelling facts that make the case for a new water ethos. Pearce takes the reader to often unheard of places to pepper his text with reflection, often presenting both the micro and the macro picture at the same time.
The facts and narrative create powerful imagery that is backed by penetrating analyses and passionate advocacy. It is investigative journalism at its best, advising the world's governments to stop focusing on the money and instead look at the best interests of the world's rivers, wetlands and aquifers. Pearce' dogged research and writing teaches the reader something 'new' on a subject that may be grossly known. And he is not a doomsayer because he highlights the efforts being made the world over to reclaim fresh water too. Just read it!
When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce, Beacon Press, Boston, 324 pages, Rs 299