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Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource Paperback – July 12, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Water is a curious thing, observed the economist Adam Smith: although it is vital to life, it costs almost nothing, whereas diamonds, which are useless for survival, cost a fortune. In Water, Canadian journalist de Villiers says the resource is still undervalued, but it is becoming more precious. It's not that the world is running out of water, he adds, but that "it's running out in places where it's needed most."

De Villiers examines the checkered history of humankind's management of water--which, he hastens to remind us, is not a renewable resource in many parts of the world. One of them is the Nile River region, burdened by overpopulation. Another is the Sahara, where Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi is pressing an ambitious, and potentially environmentally disastrous, campaign to mine deep underground aquifers to make the desert green. Another is northern China, where the damaging effects of irrigation have destroyed once-mighty rivers, and the Aral Sea of Central Asia, which was killed within a human lifetime. And still another is the American Southwest, where crops more fitting to a jungle than a dry land are nursed. De Villiers travels to all these places, reporting on what he sees and delivering news that is rarely good.

De Villiers has a keen eye for detail and a solid command of the scientific literature on which his argument is based. He's also a fine storyteller, and his wide-ranging book makes a useful companion to Marc Reisner's classic Cadillac Desert and other works that call our attention to a globally abused--and vital--resource. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A child dies every eight seconds from drinking contaminated water. More than half of the world's rivers are now so polluted that they pose serious health risks. One-third of Africa's people already endure conditions of water scarcity, and water supplies are in jeopardy in China, India, Japan, Spain, southern France, Australia, the southwestern U.S. and many other parts of Asia and Europe. Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction in Canada, de Villiers's important, compelling, highly readable report on the looming global water crisis sounds a wake-up call for concerned citizens, environmentalists, policymakers and water-drinkers everywhere. In water matters, he finds the U.S. "both profligate and caring, rapacious and thrifty," and he cites studies that warn that the Ogallala Aquifer lying beneath six Great Plains states will run dry before 2020, imperiling U.S. agriculture as well as grain exports and posing the risk of a global food crisis. For sheer travelogue pleasure, his informal survey hops from the Sea of Galilee to Victoria Falls to a Russian boat ride down the Volga, as he delves into the science, ecology, folklore, history and politics of water. The news he brings back is ominous: rapidly growing populations, ever-increasing pollution, desertification and falling water tables endanger a fragile, finite resource. Avoiding a gloom-and-doom outlook, his spirited report remains determinedly optimistic, calling for a bold combination of solutions: conservation, technological innovation, desalination of sea water, demand-reducing devices like low-flow faucets and toilets, public policy to reduce water wastefulness and international cooperation to resolve transnational disputes over water. Rights sold in seven countries; documentary rights sold. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st Mariner Books Ed edition (July 12, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618127445
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618127443
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #677,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful By charles sharpless on August 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource," by Marq De Villers is a thorough summary of facts and figures pertinent to water allocation and use in the coming century. The topics covered include descriptions of natural supplies, issues surrounding irrigation and pollution, the politics of water, and what the future may hold. If you weren't aware that there are serious problems to be dealt with in water management, this book will serve as a solid introduction. For those of you acquainted with water issues, this information will come as no surprise.
What is surprising, however, is the level-headed, even-handed tone of the book. All too many books written by non-scientists about natural resource use and misuse are filled to the brim with political polemic. De Villiers, however, has simply offered the facts, surrounded by a narrative of travels and experiences with characters from the world of water. He's just as quick to expose the fallacies of the "water miners" as he is to point out the absurdities of "eco-facism." Just the facts, please, and all wrapped into a tidy, enjoyably written bundle.
My only complaints about the book are academically picky. First, the units De Villiers chooses to use for water volumes, while all standard, are not consistent. Often he speaks of cubic meters, while not a page later he is talking of acre-feet. A few times, he even uses units of kilograms. These are generally appropriate to the topic at hand, but a conversion table should be provided in an appendix. Second, the index is not nearly complete enough.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on September 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
This easy to read and conversational book can be used as an introduction to the fate of water supplies around the world and their impact on human societies. de Villiers takes us on a chapter-by-chapter dissertation first on the technical aspects of water issues, such as the mechanics of groundwater and dams. Then we proceed to selected examples of water crises around the globe, such as China's dilemma of having too much where it's not needed and too little where it is needed, or the hideous catastrophe of the Aral Sea in the former USSR.
The author takes an admirably middle-of-the-road stance here and usually lets the facts speak for themselves, with just a little bit of opinionating. But his opinions are still quite moderate and level-headed, as he doesn't align himself with either unyielding environmentalists or extreme free trade proponents, both of which he accurately condemns as having very narrow outlooks on the real world. Some of de Villiers' key observations concern the water wars that will probably start erupting in coming years in dry regions of the world. Two countries will probably spend more money in a single day of war than it takes to improve water supplies for both of them for decades to come. Also, de Villiers drives home the point that the worrisome decline of fresh water around the globe is not due to greedy businessmen, corrupt politicians, or greens who refuse to let it be used. It's just the natural outcome of humans living like humans. Therefore real human cooperation across all societies is necessary to address the problem.
Unfortunately, the author's chapter-by-chapter approach serves only as an introduction to separate topics of interest, without very much substance behind each one.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I rank this book as being among the top ten I have read in the decade, for the combined reason that its topic concerns our survival, and its author has done a superior job of integrating both scholarly research (with full credit to those upon whose work he builds) and what must be a unique background of actually having traveled to the specific desolate areas that comprise the heart of this book-from the Aral Sea ("the exposed seabed, now over 28,000 square kilometers, became a stew of salt, pesticide residues, and toxic chemicals; the strong winds in the region pick up more than 40 million tons of these poisonous sediments each year, and the contaminated dust storms that follow have caused the incidence of respiratory illnesses and cancers to explode.") to the heart of China ("According to China's own figures, between 1983 and 1990 the number of cities short of water tripled to three hundred, almost half the cities in the country; those who problem was described as 'serious' rose from forty to one hundred." The author provides a thoughtful and well-structured look at every corner of the world, with special emphasis on the Middle East, the Tigris-Euphrates System, the Nile, the Americas, and China; and at the main human factors destroying our global water system: pollution, dams (that silt up and prevent nutrients from going downstream or flooding from rejuvenating the lower lands), irrigation (leading to salination such that hundreds of thousands of acres are now infertile and being taken out of production), over-engineering, and excessive water mining from aquifers, which are in serious danger of drying up in key areas in the US as well as overseas within the next twenty years. The author provides a balanced and well-documented view overall.Read more ›
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