This year, throughout Europe – and beyond – countries are struggling to come to terms with high summer temperatures and a serious lack of rainfall. In many cases water supplies have dropped to their lowest recorded levels, with rivers and streams flowing at a fraction of their normal volumes and lakes and reservoirs suffering the consequences. Crops have struggled to reach maturity and some have failed completely. This is a dramatic situation the implications of which cannot be ignored, especially since this is not a short term variation, but a trend in line with scientific predictions of the effects of global warming. Under these conditions water conservation is no longer a question of choice, it is a necessity. Proposals to privatise, commodify and globalise the planet’s remaining fresh water supplies must be resisted and reversed.
What is not widely known, is that people use only around 15% of the global fresh water supply, 65% goes to industrial agriculture and to high tech industrial production, particularly for computer chip manufacture. There is an urgent need to radically re-evaluate this situation in order to avoid a rapid worsening of the current crisis. Maximising moisture retention in the soil is the first priority in ensuring adequate food production and conserving long term water supplies. This requires an agricultural policy which recognises and promotes an ecologically sensitive approach to land management and specifically avoids the development of large scale (monocultural) factory farms that are cited by the United Nations as the main culprits in gross water over utilisation as well as contamination.
Poland is considered a poor country in terms of water resources, relying on rainwater for 97% of its total annual supply – which makes it all the more urgent that maximum water retention policies form the main platform of present and future governmental and local authority decisions.
But EU policies that form the main directive for Polish agriculture and which are being implemented by the present government – are demanding exactly the opposite approach. They are calling for a massive transformation of Poland’s largely small scale (water friendly) ecologically managed farms, into large scale, agrichemically dependent units whose consumption of water will be both insupportable and unsustainable. Water sources that are already over polluted by industrial and household waste, will be further contaminated by large increases in the use of nitrate fertilizers and pesticides, thus forcing the water authorities to spend millions of zl. removing these contaminants in order to conform to basic public health standards. In the UK this process is already costing tax payers nearly a billion pounds per year and exposing the British agricultural policy as running directly counter to the implementation of long term ecological solutions.
Governments, in all countries, must be held accountable for actions that impact massively on our ability to sustain the health and welfare of our finite planetary resources. By allowing the deliberate over exploitation and mismanagement of natural capital, they are pushing future generations towards a life of poverty and starvation.
Poland can – and must – avoid going down the same ruinous road. With 58% land still under relatively benign agriculture methods and 28% under traditional forestry management, the opportunity exist to create an integrated, responsible and long term solution to water and soil conservation. For this opportunity to be taken Poland must avoid the pitfalls of other countries. Through drawing on the skills and wisdom of traditional farmers and foresters – and by ensuring that her countryside becomes an environmental example to the rest of Europe, rather than another victim of the globalized industrial market place, Poland can lead the way in overcoming this crisis. It’s time to wake up.
Julian Rose August. 2003