When there is no water

Luc Williams

I would like to present a book about water by the Polish reporter Szymon Opryszek, “Water. The Story of a Kidnapping. A book that is a reportage is certainly a form rarely seen in the “Financial Observer”, but it can be an introduction to a more economic discussion about the impact of the economy on the water crisis and the impact of the lack of water on the economy. Moreover, it gives the opportunity to listen to the voices of those involved in the case, which is not possible in literary genres other than reportage.

The root cause

Water crises in other parts of the world also affect Poland, even where we do not expect it.

In his activities, Opryszek investigated the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border. Looking for reasons invisible at first glance, such as deliberate actions of the regime in Minsk or the smugglers involved, he followed the trail of the dominant group reaching the border, the Iraqis. He was looking for answers as to what drove their decision to leave for the unknown. Water turned out to be, as Opryszek puts it, the “primordial cause”. He quotes fragments of news from the region reporting economic losses caused by drought, the lowest water level at one of the dams since the 1960s, and even a lack of water. In his interviews, he presents farmers who were forced to abandon their land due to desertification. The central authorities also restrict crops due to the shortage of this resource. What further illustrates the drama of the situation, he recalls information about the return of the Syrian Kurds to ancient rain rituals. In Iraq, temperatures exceed 50 degrees Celsius, droughts are becoming more frequent and lakes are drying up. The following years do not herald an improvement in the situation, but a definite deterioration. This determines the entire economy, and thus the individual decisions of individuals who do not see water scarcity as the direct cause of their new path. This does not only apply to migration to other countries or continents, but mainly to internal migration, which also has its consequences, but is less noticeable.

It is a cliché to say that water is crucial for the functioning of economies in almost every sector, but it is often not taken into account when making decisions, especially if it is not required by law. On the one hand, as the We Are Water Foundation points out, “The climate crisis is expressed through water. Droughts, floods, desertification, melting ice… On the other hand, the report proves that the water crisis is not only caused by global warming, but also by specific human activities. Due to climate change, the issue of water requires special attention as it is related to agriculture, industry and energy production.

Opryszek’s heroes working to protect water in various ways and on different continents point out that in order to understand the growing problem and solve it, we need to change our perspective.


Without water, nothing will grow. According to data, growing plants consumes about 70 percent. water resources. The lack of water, which is unfortunately also becoming visible in Poland, affects the harvest and thus food prices, which has further social consequences.

One of the threats is intensive cultivation, which requires above-average irrigation and, as a result, leads to drying out of the areas. Opryszek describes avocado plantations in Mexico, which is one of the main producers in the world. Consumer choices, sometimes fashion and the constantly growing demand for this fruit, especially in wealthier countries, affect access to water in those countries that de facto they have no choice. Apart from the issue of the involvement of criminal groups in avocado crops due to high profits (taking them by force from farmers and clearing forests), the author also points out that “to irrigate one hectare of crops, as much as 100,000 are needed. liters of water per day. The production of a kilogram consumes 600 liters of water – about 15 times more than a kilogram of tomatoes. Illegal wells are being dug and more and more deep water is being used. Water may become scarce. One of the interlocutors points to the hypocrisy of Westerners who eat avocados while trying to make local communities aware of the role of this raw material. This case study proves how important it is to consciously manage crops, including the selection of appropriate plants.


Another aspect, also obvious, is the industry’s concern for water quality. Improper sewage treatment, pollutants discharged by all plants flow directly or through leaky pipes (which is not uncommon), passing through subsequent layers of the earth, contaminating deep waters, but also groundwater. The effects felt by societies do not require comment. However, there is potential to reuse this contaminated water and put it back into circulation.

Another challenge is the mining sector, which is illustrated by the situation in Chile described in the book, where 63 percent water used is taken from deep within the earth, which deepens the water crisis. There are scientific analyzes proving that this activity causes a decrease in water in aquifers, thus increasing the drying of the soil. In the longer term, this increases the risk of mud floods and landslides. This type of pollution affects not only the local community (i.e. lack of any access to drinking water), their crops, but the entire environment. This also applies to other countries. Opryszek also presents many other examples of water pollution caused by mines with tragic consequences.

In the case of Poland, the coal industry alone uses 64 percent. total water consumption in the country, which is a world record. As the author of the book points out, this is not only related to the extraction itself, but also to the cooling of power plants based on this raw material.

Free energy?

Water is used as a source of energy, which is also considered a green source. By changing the perspective, it can also take on other colors. Half of the megadams are located in China. This resource is directly connected to other sectors of the economy. It was in the Middle Kingdom that dams on the Yangtze and Mekong led to the extinction of fish, and thus to the disaster of fishing in Cambodia and Laos, causing economic activity to shift to industrial animal breeding. As Opryszek notes, this leads to an increase in the amount of CO produced2, although it is decreasing in China. The loss of not only a source of income for local communities, but also of food is no exception to the rule when examining the impact of dams.

The book argues that the greatest factor influencing the construction of dams is the World Bank, which perceives them as profitable investments. The report indicates that in the second half of the twentieth century, this institution was their largest source of financing in the world – USD 50 billion was allocated. for the construction of 500 dams in 92 countries. In this aspect, it is also worth considering the paradigm of perceiving these structures. It turns out that the cost of building them exceeds the energy produced, according to the Independent World Commission on Dams. Moreover, energy that was supposed to be cheaper is not, as the example of the increase in its prices in Brazil shows.

Building dams has one more element – geopolitical. Using them, you can control the amount of water in neighboring countries and thus influence them (e.g. Ethiopia – Egypt, Iran and Turkey – Iraq). It can be used as a means of pressure and even as a weapon. Following the trail indicated in the report, it turns out that, according to the Pacific Institute, only in the last three years (from 2020 to now) there have been 202 water-related conflicts.

The perspective also changes when we realize that the technology sector also needs water, especially for the operation (cooling) of data centers. A medium-sized center requires 350 million liters of this raw material per year. More data produced, which is the basis of the entire business strategy, also consumes more and more water. Opryszka’s interlocutor, Professor Mel Hogan, wonders whether there will be a long-term problem with giving priority to access to raw materials between ensuring continuity of technologies and people.

There are more aspects that require analysis. Access to running water increases social inequality. It is not uncommon that even in the large capitals of developing countries, part of the population depends on road tankers. Opryszek provides statistics according to which this resource supplied by tankers in Mumbai is 52 times more expensive than that supplied by waterworks, and in Karachi – 29 times more expensive. Most often, it is the poorest who are dependent on these supplies, because the wealthy have it in their taps.

Exercises in changing perspectives

The author of the book does not provide ready-made ways to end the crisis. It gives a voice to representatives of local communities who not only accurately identify the causes of decreasing water resources, but also take actions to stop it. Although he does not state it, perhaps a change of perspective on the crisis is simply observing the nature and transformations that cause human economic decisions?

Opryszek’s interlocutors have to survive and earn money, but their approach to nature is also visible in their actions. In one of the Mexican reserves, the hero of the report observed a correlation between cutting down trees for economic purposes and lowering water levels. As a result, the local community began to plant forests, which then retain water in aquifers and thus increase water resources.

Another attempt to change the system are cases of granting legal personality to, for example, specific rivers, which was done in 2017 by New Zealand and India. This allows for greater opportunities to take legal action to protect water.

The book “Water. The Story of a Kidnapping is worth reading. The author’s extensive knowledge, in-depth analyzes and above-average workload are evident, including conducting interviews on various continents, searching for connections and writing skills. However, the attempt to catch a large number of different problems and stories in a butterfly net (which is the main theme of the book) resulted in them spilling out, not creating a fully coherent whole. I understand the author’s approach – he wanted to point out the multi-aspect nature of the water crisis, affecting many social and economic levels and different regions, which also indicates his involvement in the matter and his attempt to influence the reader.

The author expresses her own opinions, not the official position of the institution where she works.

Financial Observer – open license / Observerfinansowy.pl


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