April 2008, Vol. 20, No.4

Water Volumes

Dry: Life Without Water

Bart Van der Bruggen

Ehsan Masood and Daniel Schaffer (2006). Harvard University Press, 79 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138, 192 pp., $29.95, hardcover, ISBN 0-674-02224-6.

This publication stems from a project funded by the Global Environmental Facility (Washington, D.C.) aimed at examining successful applications of conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in arid and semiarid regions in the developing world.

The project, awarded to the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (Trieste, Italy) and the Third World Network of Scientific Organizations (Trieste), started in 2000 and resulted in a series of conferences and two in-depth publications describing 35 and 18 case studies, respectively. This book is intended to reach a larger and more diverse audience. This was considered particularly important because everyone should be aware of this subject, from scientists and engineers to managers and decision-makers.

The approach chosen here was a journalistic presentation of 16 cases of arid places, well-documented with ample high-quality pictures. The result is impressive. This is not a dull summary of facts but a journey through the world of dry regions.

The cases are equally divided among Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Mid-East–Mahgreb. Some are directly related to water supply, such as the case of Chile, where fog harvesting using polypropylene nets is the only way to survive in the Atacama Desert, where there has been not a single drop of water for 400 years; the case of Oman, where roses are grown in gardens watered by a system of tunnels and canals that is more than 3000 years old; and the case of the Thar people in one of Pakistan’s remotest corners, who developed a system of microdams for basic water provision.

Other subjects are more related to ecology (saving the corncrake, a bird with resting places in Egypt, by protecting its habitat), to social development (promoting the involvement of women in agriculture in Morocco), desertification (preventing expansion of the Tengger desert in China by inducing green strips with straw tiles), the value of traditional lifestyles (the Maasai in Kenya and the Bedouins in Jordan’s Badia desert), and even economic conversion (Pilar in northeastern Brazil — from mining town to goat town).

In some of these examples, water may be more remotely present, but in all cases, water scarcity determines the local way of living. Looking at how people in the entire world have managed to live virtually without water urges for reflection and may be inspiring at the same time. The cases are not elaborated in a scientific way, but they still contain a treasure of information. The objective of this book — making people aware — certainly is reached in style.

Bart Van der Bruggen is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Leuven (Belgium).

Bart Van der Bruggen is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Leuven (Belgium).