Sunday, June 20, 2010

Heavy rain does not mean abundance of water....Singapore

THERE were no sales, just splash at some parts of Orchard Road one morning when a flood turned roads into tea-coloured canals within three hours, from 8am.
It was mid of July 2010, a whopping 101mm of rain - about 60 per cent of what normally falls in the entire month of June - led to flash floods in several other areas too.
The prime shopping belt, Orchard Road, was the worst-hit, but flooding was also reported in Bukit Timah Road, Veerasamy Road in Little India, and Thomson Road.
The flood waters spilled into underground carparks, soiled luxury handbags costing thousands of dollars at the Hermes boutique, and rendered equipment and furnishings at the three-day-old Wendy's restaurant useless.Stores at Lucky Plaza were not spared either, and retailers there said the flooding was the worst they had seen in years.

WHEN the word water appears in print these days, crisis is rarely far behind. Water, it is said, is the new oil: a resource long squandered, now growing expensive and soon to be overwhelmed by insatiable demand. Aquifers are falling, glaciers vanishing, reservoirs drying up and rivers no longer flowing to the sea. Climate change threatens to make the problems worse. Everyone must use less water if famine, pestilence and mass migration are not to sweep the globe.

The language is often overblown, and the remedies sometimes ill conceived, but the basic message is not wrong. Water is indeed scarce in many places, and will grow scarcer. Bringing supply and demand into equilibrium will be painful, and political disputes may increase in number and intensify in their capacity to cause trouble. To carry on with present practices would indeed be to invite disaster.

Why? The difficulties start with the sheer number of people using the stuff. When, 60 years ago, the world’s population was about 2.5 billion, worries about water supply affected relatively few people. Both drought and hunger existed, as they have throughout history, but most people could be fed without irrigated farming. Then the green revolution, in an inspired combination of new crop breeds, fertilisers and water, made possible a huge rise in the population. The number of people on Earth rose to 6 billion in 2000, nearly 7 billion today, and is heading for 9 billion in 2050.

Industry, too, needs water. It takes about 22% of the world’s withdrawals. Domestic activities take the other 8%. Together, the demands of these two categories quadrupled in the second half of the 20th century, growing twice as fast as those of farming, and forecasters see nothing but further increases in demand on all fronts.

Meeting that demand is a different task from meeting the demand for almost any other commodity. One reason is that the supply of water is finite. The world will have no more of it in 2025, or 2050, or when the cows come home, than it has today, or when it lapped at the sides of Noah’s ark. This is because the law of conservation of mass says, broadly, that however you use it, you cannot destroy the stuff. Neither can you readily make it. If some of it seems to come from the skies, that is because it has evaporated from the Earth’s surface, condensed and returned.

Scarce or plentiful, water is above all local. It is heavy—one cubic metre weighs a tonne—so expensive to move. If you are trying to manage it, you must first divide your area of concern into drainage basins. Surface water—mostly rivers, lakes and reservoirs—will not flow from one basin into another without artificial diversion, and usually only with pumping. Within a basin, the water upstream may be useful for irrigation, industrial or domestic use. As it nears the sea, though, the opportunities diminish to the point where it has no uses except to sustain deltas, wetlands and the estuarial ecology, and to carry silt out to sea.

Priced or not, water is certainly valued, and that value depends on the use to which it is harnessed. Water is used not just to grow food but to make every kind of product, from microchips to steel girders. The largest industrial purpose to which it is put is cooling in thermal power generation, but it is also used in drilling for and extracting oil, the making of petroleum products and ethanol, and the production of hydro-electricity. Some of the processes involved, such as hydro power generation, consume little water (after driving the turbines, most is returned to the river), but some, such as the techniques used to extract oil from sands, are big consumers.

Let's remind ourselves, water is precious, one day may come and money might not even buy you the liquid. Let's us continue to use it prudently and educating the public constantly the importance to save as much and not waste, in future, we may need to recycle our own waste product, i.e. urine, and consume the recycled product to survive.

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