Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Wonder of the World's Most Precious Resource

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Wonder of the World's Most Precious Resource

Article excerpt

Ask any 10 people what is the most essential element of life and chances are a majority of them will say "water." Yet few if any of them may know that less than I percent of the Earth's water is available for human use.

A 2006 survey by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration found that only 4 percent of respondents knew how scarce is the world's supply of freshwater--water that has to be shared among 6.6 billion humans and all other creatures.

While freshwater makes up only 3 percent of all the Earth's water, much of it is sealed inside glaciers, ice caps and sea ice or locked deep underground. The 1 percent that is available to humans and other life forms is not a renewable resource.

The water we have is finite. It's the only water we will ever have. This reality lends weight and wonder to an exhibition that opened in November at the American Museum of Natural History here, titled "Water: [H.sub.2]O = Life."

Viewing water as a sacred and endangered resource carries the power to alter behaviors, said Eleanor Sterling, director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the museum and curator of the show. In a short video that is part of the exhibit, Sterling and others tell visitors why they need to rethink the ways we get and use water.

The exhibit shows the stresses that population growth is putting on the planet's water supply. A 68-inch globe presents maps and satellite images of Earth, dramatically illustrating how water is distributed and used around the world.

Civilizations have flourished and spread depending on their access to freshwater. The exhibit shows a still-in-use 2,200-year-old dam as it chronicles eons of irrigation and damming. But competitive demands on the limited supply have caused water wars.

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The exploitation of water for industrial, energy and farm uses has wrought devastating consequences--as is seen in the recently built Three Gorges Dam in China. …

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