Our civilization is at a crossroads, and the future will depend on our choices. The economic and social development model that prevails on the planet is based on the frenetic consumption of resources and is deeply predatory of nature. It causes unprecedented environmental devastation and, on top of that, amplifies social inequalities. This combination is toxic to social and political stability and ecosystems' health, causing multiple concerns because the future is now converted into a problematic category instead of a place of hope.

At the same time, our civilization is entangled in impressive paradoxes: we invest as never before in scientific research and technological development, but we fail to anticipate, prevent and manage the global risks and threats that affect us. We are a civilization that accumulates information and knowledge as never before, including about the state of the planet, but is unable to stop the degree of environmental devastation it generates. We violate the biosphere's integrity and destroy biodiversity, which is our life insurance on this planet. If we do nothing to change our destructive behavior, the human species will increasingly become targets for new viruses, and we risk facing a century of epidemics.

All these paradoxes reach an outburst when we analyze our relationship with water and our inability to manage this resource well and give it its due value. Water is crucial for life, economic activity, the functioning of societies, human and animal health, and the stability of ecosystems and the planet as a whole. Water scarcity is a crisis trigger and multiplier. This scarcity will be dramatically amplified by the devastating effects of climate change, more extended droughts, disruption of the entire water cycle, reduced rainfall, and the increasing difficulty in recharging aquifers and replenishing water reserves. Apart from a few countries in the world, such as Israel, which was able to build a "desert economy" that is now healthy in terms of its water resources, we live on a sick planet where many countries are already facing water stress and water scarcity issues. Around 1 billion people in 40 countries are now on this worrying threshold. Some cities in the world, such as Cape Town, have already announced that they are on the verge of "day zero," i.e., the day when they do not have water available to meet all the needs of their population. At this time around, 11 cities in the world, from Cairo to Tokyo, from London to Miami, from São Paulo to Beijing, may, sooner rather than later, be faced with water shortages.

This is a serious problem, often ignored by decision-makers and citizens. As it is about water, it is undervalued in the current mental paradigm and "always appears," even if it is through the rain. But when it comes to water, if we don't take drastic measures to manage this resource intelligently, the future will be a difficult place to live.

As far as Portugal is concerned, the situation is complicated. The availability of water is around 40%, which, according to international studies, such as that of the "World Resources Institute", put Portugal in the risk zone, with the emergence of water stress in the coming decades. About 2/3 of Portuguese aquifers are undifferentiated masses of water, with a low storage coefficient, which means they have to be recharged periodically. With the decrease in rainfall cycles, this is increasingly difficult, and prolonged droughts exacerbate the problem. Portugal is currently facing desertification phenomena in some areas such as the Alentejo and the north of the Algarve. Some national river basins, such as the Sado, Tejo, Mira, Ribeiras do Oeste, but also Ribeiras do Algarve, Guadiana, Leça, and Ave, already face threats when the water use index is compared to the existing availabilities. Another significant factor: 50% of national water resources come from Spain. As is evident in other parts of the world, when water scarcity problems increase, rivers can be used as instruments of geopolitical power, exacerbating tensions. It is no accident that China occupied Tibet in the face of international outcry. Four of the largest Asian rivers are born in the great Tibetan plateau: the Indus, Brahmaputra, Mekong, and Yangtze. Control of these rivers gives China an appreciable geostrategic advantage and is a source of tension with its neighbors.

Portugal urgently needs an agenda for water, a kind of Pact capable of mobilizing everyone, from political decision-makers, universities and research centers, associations and bodies in the sector and companies, to build and implement a sustainable model of water resources management acting in all relevant aspects. The response must be multidimensional and serves not only on the level of supply and the efficient management of resources but also on the demand level, changing habits and behaviors, valuing water, and raising awareness of its intelligent and sustainable use responsible. Solid public policies are needed to promote and consolidate the effective introduction of the circular economy in water, supporting and stimulating the treatment of wastewater and the reuse of all available water resources, appropriately directing them to their multiple applications. It is necessary to invest in innovation and technological development to find more effective solutions in the treatment and reuse of water. A new look is needed on the integrated management of water resources, the fight against losses in the network, which are very high in Portugal, the rethinking of storage and strategic water reserves. Investment is needed in the renovation and modernization of infrastructure, in monitoring and measurement methods using the most advanced technologies because measuring well is a step towards identifying problems and finding solutions. It is necessary to manage the water cycle in cities and the countryside, invest in digitizing production and distribution chains, eliminate redundancy and waste, optimize networks, and use artificial intelligence systems and learning machines to build digital water systems, anticipate risks and find responses to potential threats. It is necessary to invest in desalination, carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the projects, advance with those that add value and solve problems, preventing the country from facing its "day-zero" shortly in several of its productive industries. Without water, there is no economy, no agriculture, no industry, no exports. That is why this problem is structural for the country's future, and the optimistic visions that prevail in many areas, based on the mantras "rain will solve" or "Alqueva will solve," are not only wrong but can transform the future instead of hopelessness. But, as the Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca says in one of his plays, "the worst doesn't always happen."

Have a great and impactful week!

António Costa e Silva

This article refers to edition #125 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter.
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