Sunday 21 December 2014

Water Water Not Everywhere

A happy solstice to all and may all your troubles be able to be delegated to others, dumped, delayed indefinitely or distanced by virtue of an unforeseen computer glitch.  This may not be the case in one part of the globe.

This grim tale which is bad enough to satisfy any real Scrooge has had some attention but little coverage as a whole and without much in the way of analysis as to the potential.  But the basic story has been coming a long while and it was always the case of where it might happen and who would suffer.

This matters not only to those immediately concerned but all those who either trade or are economically involved with them.  The Wikipedia article on Sao Paulo, in particular the introductory section tells the story of the city.

It is calculated to be the 12th largest City on the planet and so a full  scale example of the urbanisation that has occurred in the last century.  It is the kind of human and economic entity that many of the world and EU leaders and in UK politics and government see as the model for all our futures.

The worst may be avoided in this case, if the rains come and/or the authorities work together to put in place the systems, reforms and investment needed to ensure water supplies.  Their basic problem is how much increase will be needed and its costs.

For many the obvious answer might be the apparently easy one of desalination.  But this is costly and while possible in some cases may not be either enough or affordable for mega cities such as Sao Paulo.  Given the rate of expansion it would command a high proportion of social investment.

Sao Paulo cannot stand still and have a pause for recovery.  If it continues to grow it is going to take major efforts to enable it to do so and beyond the experience of other places.

If it does not grow and contracts, then it depends on what sort of contraction and how it is managed.  A slow, gentle decline would be one thing, but it means decanting expansion to other places.  A fast one would be difficult to control with serious problems.

So the risk could be a major collapse.  It would be bigger, nastier and more unstable than the recent Detroit and other experiences and its influence could be greater in that it would have global effects because an urbanised entity of this extent has a world "footprint".

Whether it would trigger other such collapses is an interesting question.  There was a time when England went from being Roman, with an essentially urban structure at the centre of its economy and governance, to being a warring tribal set of local fiefs.  We call it the Dark Ages.

Certainly, there were communities with their skills and cultures that developed over the centuries following so it was not quite as dark as we once thought.  But it could be nasty, brutish and short.

Historically, there have been other collapses down the millennia in many places and for many reasons.  In some cases there was a recovery, greater or lesser but often in another form, in others it did not happen.  Prediction is not possible.

Here we go again?

1 comment:

  1. No doubt the smart folk will leave and the rest will have to manage as best they can.