04 December 2006

Cracking the Whip of Progress

Our latest presidential election took place the other day here in Ecuador. It is undoubtedly the most important decision that Ecuadorians make as a nation, the highest expression of a 25-year old democracy. Concerned citizens exercised their God-given right to participate in choosing their development path as a nation. A nearly 100% turn out rate! Beautiful.

Yet, in the first round, 17% of the people voted “nulo”, and a noteworthy percentage left the ballot blank, which combined placed them in third place. In the second round the figures, although lower, weren’t much different. So, one might ask, why would anyone make the effort to go out and vote, just to scribble all over the ballot or fold it up and stuff it in the urn without writing a thing on it? Well, although there are many possible explanations, an important one is the law obligating people to vote. That’s right. As in the majority of Latin American countries, if you want to get or renew a passport, open a bank account, travel outside of the country and a whole slew of other important transactions, you must present your voting certificate. Is this democracy after all?

This all made me think about other relevant current events. Congress is close to approving a sweeping health bill that, among other things, gives doctors permission to provide first term abortions for women whose health or life would be endangered by carrying their pregnancies to term. Of course, many concerned citizens opposed to any form of abortion decided to demonstrate their ire by taking to the streets. So far, so good. The march took place in the morning on a weekday, and to my surprise, its ranks swelled with thousands of children, adolescents and youth as reported by the local press. So, one might ask, don’t these children go to school? One might also ask how so many adolescents have become so well informed and organized around this volatile issue. Simple, they are obligated to go. That’s right, entire schools and high-schools bus their students to these marches, give them signs and tell them to make noise. Even more surprising is that if these schools didn’t act so strangely, many parents would actually put their children in schools that did.

Indigenous people in Ecuador have a rich history of community building. Most indigenous communities are tight-knit units, highly organized around elected administrations with hundreds of years of history. The most remarkable element of this organization is the minga. The entire community turns out to help one of its members build a house, an animal pen, sow or reap the harvest or plough a field. Women, men and children participate in the event by working, cooking, cleaning or all three. In this way the community prospers because it takes care of its members by providing invaluable services to those who have no other means of properly doing so. Yet, again, they are obligatory. These are especially punitive as the water or electricity is cut off for the house whose members didn’t participate.

Other examples abound, some more and some less punitive. Surely, leaders of these events must have their reasons for obligating people to participate. I assume that left to their own not enough people wouldn’t vote, or protest or help each other to keep these institutions working. They aren’t mature enough to act properly, so obligating them will provide a structure, albeit a propped up one, around which society can function until, one day, they will realize how beneficial these actions are and will rise up to do them on their own. Meanwhile, people vote “nulo” because both the candidates and the entire process are meaningless to their daily lives, children scream slogans they don’t understand, and the minga is full of fearful participants.

This archaic scheme could only be acceptable as a parallel effort with sizeable investments in education, so that people may gradually become responsible enough to make mature decisions. Sadly, this seems to be the case only in isolated, local, privately funded efforts, as at the national level it doesn’t pan out. According to the 2006 UN Human Development Report, Ecuador spent 3.4% of its GDP on education (These are 1991 figures, although more recent figures from other sources put the investment between 1.5 and 3% of GDP). Comparatively, (2006 figures) the 10 countries with the highest Human Development Indicator ratings, average 5.7%. The USA spends 5.9%, Cuba 9.7%, Norway 7.7% and Israel 7.3%. Closer to home, Chile spends 3.7%, Colombia 4.9%, and Brazil 4.1%. Of these, only Colombia doesn’t obligate its citizens to vote.

Several things become clear from all of this. At least in Ecuador, obligating people to do things isn’t carried out as a stop measure. It is rather a cultural fixture. Investing in education has not been a priority for our leaders, in spite of noteworthy goals (the current goal is to gradually raise spending on education to 6% of GDP in ten years time). Not surprisingly, Ecuador has one of the least stable political systems (recently rated on a par with Haiti by The Economist), as no president has finished his 4-year mandate since 1996. This indicates that people are increasingly rebellious as any child becomes with overly strict parents. International institutions and corporations request greater political and economic stability to invest in infrastructure projects. However, until our leaders find the link between greater investments in education and more mature and productive citizens, these requests will go unfulfilled. Can our leaders expect anything different?

22 November 2006

True Beauty

The guy in the seat in front of mine took a last swig out of his plastic water bottle, checked to make sure it was empty, screwed the cap back on, casually leaned over and threw it out of the window. That done he settled back to enjoy the journey home. I opened my mouth, nothing came out. Again I tried but I ended up sighing and looking out the same window, as if I could suck the bottle back in and take it to a trashcan.

I learned my lesson a few years ago when on a longer journey mine was the only window that opened. I felt fortunate at the time given the outside temperature was over 30° C, and inside it wasn’t much cooler. A street vendor got on as the bus went over a speed bump and sold a bunch of rice and chicken lunches in small, cheap Tupperware type containers. My fortune turned into horror, however, as one by one people stood up to throw their empty containers out my window. I closed it, they reopened it. I asked one if he thought Ecuador was a beautiful country, and he gave me a questioning stare that said a thousand words. I closed my window repeatedly until people decided that it was easier to ask the driver to open the bus door and dispose of their trash that way. The gringo doesn’t understand how things work in our country. Why do they come here anyway? Well, as long as they spend their dollars…

I have made more than a busfull of enemies over the years here. The last town I lived in had a beautiful little river that ran right behind our house. Downstream about 100 meters were a bunch of houses out of which little old ladies would emerge daily to ceremoniously dump their plastic garbage bags in the river. Hey lady, this is YOUR town, your river. You live here. Blank stare. Sir, don’t throw those sacks in the river, they contaminate it. Give it to the garbage men when they come by. They don’t come by here. Oh. But…

One of my children’s favorite books is about an old man who, after years of picking up bags and bags of trash outside of his house, and becoming more and more resentful about it, discovered one day that he had POWER over trash. With a flick of his finger he could make improperly discarded trash fly back and stick on its owner for good. It’s called "The Wartville Wizard", by Don Madden. It’s a great read. When the entire town finally went out to confront him, he looked upon them, and said: “Hello, slobs!” After hearing a piece of his mind, they felt ashamed and promised to not do it again.

However much I have dreamed of doing this, I don’t think the wizard resolved anything. The townspeople acted out of fear, and fear is a short-lived motivator. The forces that mold our sense of individual and collective purpose are attraction to beauty and thirst for knowledge. Surely, these were the Wizard’s next projects.

Attraction to beauty is an inborn magnet that pulls our heart towards decency and nobility, towards acts of generosity, solidarity and friendship, draws out love for the majesty, harmony and diversity of nature, and compels us to express and contemplate these sentiments through art. Clearly it is manifested when we appreciate the magnificence of an ideal, the elegance of a scientific theory and the perfection of universal principles. Significantly, it is the motor behind our search for meaning and purpose, which extends to desire for order in social and administrative relationships.

So, what guides and motivates people who throw trash in the street? At first glace it would seem that these people have been deprived of this sense. However, upon a closer look it is apparent that while overdeveloping a warped sense of feminine corporal beauty, they have underdeveloped this innate sense when it requires seeing nature as an extension of oneself. Nature is a sphere of life that does not concern us; it is out there to be dealt with as needed. Just as we can choose to develop certain qualities of our personality over others, we can also let the river that is popular culture take us downstream at its will. In places so deprived of basic quality education like Ecuador (as well as in places not so deprived), this stream leads more often than not to the ocean of trash. Trashy music, food, entertainment, relationships, words, habits, etc… It saddens to see people with such joyous, receptive and generous hearts let them absorb such enormous amounts of rubbish.

The Wartville Wizard maintained his distance from the townspeople because he couldn’t communicate with them; the abyss that separated them from him prevented him from understanding their plight. Their subsequent shame and promises failed to change this; they were still slobs in his mind. The real lesson here is that the Wizard needed to change as much as the townspeople, but because he thought he was right about the trash bit, he couldn’t see it this way. Judging others relegated him to weirdo status, and weird people can’t teach normal people anything, except through fear of course.

I couldn’t say anything to my busmate today because I am weird to him, which puts part of the burden of change on me if I want to open people’s hearts. If I want to help my friend develop his innate sense of attraction to true beauty, to extend his own sense of self perception to mother nature, I have to begin by exuding a beautiful character, one that connects hearts, inspires and most importantly, learns from others.

03 October 2006

The Beginnings of Interfaith Dialogue

The “war on terror” has surrounded both the Eastern and Western worlds with slippery slopes in which taking sides is increasingly meaningless. We see predominantly Muslim states invaded and manipulated into internal conflicts by the Western forces, many innocent lives and communities destroyed daily and reactionism bred. From the other side, we see acts of blatant terrorism, acute discrimination and provocative public statements directed both within and towards “western” targets.

Many have taken these conflicts as West vs. East or even Christianity vs. Islam and have fuelled the flames of religious bigotry and discord. Others have simultaneously raised their voices for increasing interfaith dialogue.

By advancing historically unsound and theologically inaccurate opinions in such a deliberate and belligerent way, and thus deviating from the noble legacy left by his predecessor, the Pope could not have been inviting the Muslim world to dialogue. His subsequent lip service to interfaith dialogue has provided even clearer evidence of his shoddy propositions.

Undoubtedly, the situation calls for real interfaith dialogue. However, it will only initiate when believers from both camps make sincere efforts to understand the other’s faith, and when they make a humble appraisal of their own faith’s historical exploits. The first step to all of this is properly understanding Muhammad and His teachings, for this is the sticky point that people keep coming back to.

To put my money where my mouth is, I’d like to contribute in a small way to this point. For this I shall quote fragments of a speech delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
(full text can be found here) as He speaks of Muhammad:

“Americans and Europeans have heard a number of stories about the Prophet which they have thought to be true, although the narrators were either ignorant or antagonistic: most of them were clergy; others were ignorant Muslims who repeated unfounded traditions about Muhammad which they ignorantly believed to be to His praise.

Thus some benighted Muslims made His polygamy the pivot of their praises and held it to be a wonder, regarding it as a miracle; and European historians, for the most part, rely on the tales of these ignorant people.

For example, a foolish man said to a clergyman that the true proof of greatness is bravery and the shedding of blood, and that in one day on the field of battle a follower of Muhammad had cut off the heads of one hundred men! This misled the clergyman to infer that killing is considered the way to prove one's faith to Muhammad, while this is merely imaginary. The military expeditions of Muhammad, on the contrary, were always defensive actions: a proof of this is that during thirteen years, in Mecca, He and His followers endured the most violent persecutions. At this period they were the target for the arrows of hatred: some of His companions were killed and their property confiscated; others fled to foreign lands. Muhammad Himself, after the most extreme persecutions by the Qurayshites, who finally resolved to kill Him, fled to Medina in the middle of the night. Yet even then His enemies did not cease their persecutions, but pursued Him to Medina, and His disciples even to Abyssinia.

Muhammad received the Divine Revelation among these tribes, and after enduring thirteen years of persecution from them, He fled. [1] But this people did not cease to oppress; they united to exterminate Him and all His followers. It was under such circumstances that Muhammad was forced to take up arms. This is the truth: we are not bigoted and do not wish to defend Him, but we are just, and we say what is just. Look at it with justice. If Christ Himself had been placed in such circumstances among such tyrannical and barbarous tribes, and if for thirteen years He with His disciples had endured all these trials with patience, culminating in flight from His native land -- if in spite of this these lawless tribes continued to pursue Him, to slaughter the men, to pillage their property, and to capture their women and children -- what would have been Christ's conduct with regard to them? If this oppression had fallen only upon Himself, He would have forgiven them, and such an act of forgiveness would have been most praiseworthy; but if He had seen that these cruel and bloodthirsty murderers wished to kill, to pillage and to injure all these oppressed ones, and to take captive the women and children, it is certain that He would have protected them and would have resisted the tyrants. What objection, then, can be taken to Muhammad's action? Is it this, that He did not, with His followers, and their women and children, submit to these savage tribes? To free these tribes from their bloodthirstiness was the greatest kindness, and to coerce and restrain them was a true mercy. They were like a man holding in his hand a cup of poison, which, when about to drink, a friend breaks and thus saves him. If Christ had been placed in similar circumstances, it is certain that with a conquering power He would have delivered the men, women and children from the claws of these bloodthirsty wolves.
[1 To Medina.]

Briefly, Muhammad appeared in the desert of Hijaz in the Arabian Peninsula, which was a desolate, sterile wilderness, sandy and uninhabited. Some parts, like Mecca and Medina, are extremely hot; the people are nomads with the manners and customs of the dwellers in the desert, and are entirely destitute of education and science. Muhammad Himself was illiterate, and the Qur’án was originally written upon the blade bones of sheep, or on palm leaves. These details indicate the condition of the people to whom Muhammad was sent. The first question which He put to them was, "Why do you not accept the Pentateuch and the Gospel, and why do you not believe in Christ and in Moses?" This saying presented difficulties to them, and they argued, "Our forefathers did not believe in the Pentateuch and the Gospel; tell us, why was this?" He answered, "They were misled; you ought to reject those who do not believe in the Pentateuch and the Gospel, even though they are your fathers and your ancestors."

Muhammad never fought against the Christians; on the contrary, He treated them kindly and gave them perfect freedom. A community of Christian people lived at Najran and was under His care and protection. Muhammad said, "If anyone infringes their rights, I Myself will be his enemy, and in the presence of God I will bring a charge against him." In the edicts which He promulgated it is clearly stated that the lives, properties and honor of the Christians and Jews are under the protection of God; and that if a Muhammadan married a Christian woman, the husband must not prevent her from going to church, nor oblige her to veil herself; and that if she died, he must place her remains in the care of the Christian clergy. Should the Christians desire to build a church, Islam ought to help them. In case of war between Islam and her enemies, the Christians should be exempted from the obligation of fighting, unless they desired of their own free will to do so in defence of Islam, because they were under its protection. But as a compensation for this immunity, they should pay yearly a small sum of money. In short, there are seven detailed edicts on these subjects, some copies of which are still extant at Jerusalem. This is an established fact and is not dependent on my affirmation. The edict of the second Caliph [1] still exists in the custody of the orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, and of this there is no doubt. [2]
[1 Of Umar.]
[2 Cf. Jurji Zaydan's Umayyads and Abbasids, trans. D. S. Margoliouth.]

Nevertheless, after a certain time, and through the transgression of both the Muhammadans and the Christians, hatred and enmity arose between them. Beyond this fact, all the narrations of the Muslims, Christians and others are simply fabrications, which have their origin in fanaticism, or ignorance, or emanate from intense hostility.

In such a country, and amidst such barbarous tribes, an illiterate Man produced a book in which, in a perfect and eloquent style, He explained the divine attributes and perfections, the prophethood of the Messengers of God, the divine laws, and some scientific facts.

In short, many Oriental peoples have been reared for thirteen centuries under the shadow of the religion of Muhammad. During the Middle Ages, while Europe was in the lowest depths of barbarism, the Arab peoples were superior to the other nations of the earth in learning, in the arts, mathematics, civilization, government and other sciences. The Enlightener and Educator of these Arab tribes, and the Founder of the civilization and perfections of humanity among these different races, was an illiterate Man, Muhammad. Was this illustrious Man a thorough Educator or not? A just judgment is necessary.”

Although this small essay responds to many questions, it surely provides fuel for new ones. I would love to receive any of them so as to open a dialogue and talk about the logical consequences of the assertions presented here.

28 September 2006

Knowledge vs. Power

A recent concern of my wife's has sparked a series of conversations and investigations that are noteworthy. Our first two children (we have 3) are small in stature and quite thin. They have always been on the bottom rung of the growth curve, although their growth rates have been constant and otherwise healthy. Several pediatricians have explained to us that this is quite consistent with our height and weight and as long as they don't decline in their growth rates, there is nothing to worry about.

Unconvinced, my wife has recently begun seeking other culprits and solutions. She came to settle on the fact that because I am vegetarian we eat no red meat in the house, and relatively little chicken and fish. Otherwise their diet is well-balanced with lots of green leafies, whole grains, fresh fruit, nuts, a decent amount of carbohydrates and relatively low sugar intake.

In her quest to understand the issue better, she has asked a couple of well-known nutritionists and doctors about this matter, and according to her, they have all answered that children must eat red meat and drink cow milk in ever greater portions to grow normally, be strong and healthy. The other day we were at a social gathering with an otherwise well-informed and experienced homeopathic/acupuncture doctor, who promptly responded in this same vein. I politely asked if he was a nutritionist or had any studies in nutrition to back-up such a claim to which he retorted that this is common knowledge.

Sensing no room for discussion, I refrained from answering and tactfully changed the subject. My very well-intentioned wife is now properly armed for her meat and dairy campaign and I am beside myself with wonder at the facility with which our health authorities proclaim ideas about which they are essentially ignorant.

In fact, I am thoroughly convinced that recognized authorities in nearly every field of human endeavor are responsible for cultivating cultural norms that sustain the status quo. Health authorities prescribe reactive chemical medicine that usually creates more imbalance in the body than already existed; religious authorities resort to antiquated dogmas, meaningless rituals and fear tactics to appease seeker's desire for truth; educators force feed culturally dominant ideas in an environment of "child-centered discovery"; farmers and ranchers spray and inject chemicals and hormones that seep into and disrupt our bodies; development and economic experts convert human fulfillment into inaccessible and brainless formulas; and hold me back from articulating what way too many politicians do.

We the people, then, hold much responsibility. Primarily, our responsibility is to educate ourselves and empower others to search for truth, although this carries with it a corollary responsibility: to accept truth when it is found. Seeking truth is common to most everybody, even to all of the leaders mentioned above, but detaching oneself from material and ideological comforts to live by the truth one finds is where most fail.

My attempts to commit to this principle have caused me many apparently significant difficulties, but none as big as feeding my kids liver and milk to help them grow. In this lies our other great responsibility: to understand the process through which humanity, and each human being, matures, accept it, gently and knowledgeably prod it along and most importantly, get a good laugh out of it.

Mark Prindle's Rock and Roll Review Site

What follows is my review of Mark's Record Reviews which is to be found HERE.

If you love reading rock and roll record reviews like I do, you have surely surfed the web to find the best sites for this. To begin, let me acknowledge that this is unequivocally the best rock and roll review site there is, hands down. Other sites may review more cd's, have more variety and have more catchy designs, but nobody satisfies like Mark. You go to the site and you see like 500 interviews you can look at and enjoy, none of them with people you have ever heard of before, but hey, somebody has to have heard of these people. I actually found someone from a band I recognize the other day and the interview enlightened me about that band, and motivated me to hear more of it’s music.

Then, scrolling down, you see all of the bands reviewed, and clicking on any one will reveal their catalogue. This is one of the best features of the site, you can see the entire list of cd's made by the band and can thus choose which one you want to hear, which, if I understand correctly, is one of the main objectives of the site in the first place: help the reader to decide where to begin with a band. Another excellent feature, that I haven’t seen anywhere else, is how Mark allows all kinds of reader feedback on his review for each cd. As you can imagine, many of the reader comments are stupid and deserve to be burned, but the majority are great compliments to the review, you can see what popular reaction is to Mark’s opinion. Most people agree in general with the rating and review, but have a bone to pick or want to indicate something that Mark left out or went overboard on. Several people who regularly contributed to Mark’s site went on to form their own record review sites and Mark kindly puts their links on the page and encourages readers to visit them as well.

The best feature of all, of course, are the reviews themselves. Entertaining, funny, in-depth and importantly, analyzed from a musician’s point of view, they ring true. This is my main complaint about other review sites: they are wrong! You find what they categorize as a great cd and you listen to it and it just isn’t. What good does that do anybody? Mark, with few exceptions (although substantial exceptions like Who’s Next and U2’s Actung Baby), hits the nail on the head; you can trust the review. What I like about the reviews is that they focus on musical creativity, inventiveness and not on how catchy or popular anything is. He is quite adamant about this, even giving a relatively low score to Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde because it breaks no creative ground! You will be constantly surprised by his ratings and reviews as most of us are used to liking music that just sounds cool or nice, but looking at it from a musically creative point of view, is pretty lipid. So, many disks that are widely given credit as an artist’s best, are demoted here to their proper place. Many mainstreamish bands aren’t given a space on the site for this reason.

One last cool thing about the site is that I am always discovering bands that are great. Favorite bands that I have discovered here are Minus the Bear, The Thinking Fellers, Unrest, Yo La Tengo, Slint, The New Pornographers, Fugazi, Flaming Lips among others.

So, why do I give this site 4 stars instead of 5? Well, life isn’t always as one would have it. First, to help people decide where to start (I guess) he has decided to give 10 stars (or whatever those things are) to only one disk per band. So, Mark, what happens when a band has more than one 10 star disk? Hmmmmm? Does it make sense to give a 10 star disk a 9 just because you decided to award only 1 per band? That only tricks the reader into thinking that it is equal to other 9 star disks. What’s wrong with a band having more than 1 perfect disk, and letting the reader decide which one to get first? Really obvious examples of this start with the Beatles and the Stones, and go on and on.

A related shortcoming is that Mark reviews disks relative to other disks. In other words, he doesn’t have established criteria to award a disk a specific mark. So, you get a bunch of really inconsistent ratings like for example when readers go berserk over the 8 given to Who’s Next and justifiably complain that he gave equal marks to far inferior disks like Pink Floyd’s Animals, Yes’ Relayer, Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door, etc… although this complaint comes up in other reviews as well.

Also, for some totally unknowable, unguesable and unforeseeable reason, Mark excludes any and all music with soul from his site, except stabs at a rap band or two and Miles Davis. I know that most bands with soul don’t exactly play rock and roll, the object of review on the site, but much of this type of music is the source of all rock, it’s the foundation from which rock springs and to which it owes it’s very existence. It is not useful to make such rigid distinctions between genres when great, great music is out there to be discovered. So, Mark, diversify, yeah, go ahead.

My main complaint, and really the reason for giving the site 4 stars out of 5, is the inexplicable dependency on, the constant disgusting references to and way out of line obscenity. I don’t mean the use of swear words, that I could handle. No, he goes way overboard, going off on revolting tangents that leave your face all scrunched up and making your skip to the actual review. What’s weird is that he doesn’t use obscenity as a linguistic crutch, because the first reviews put up on the site are very clear and well written. They are not as funny and entertaining as the later entries, but at least you don’t finish them feeling like you have been subjected to seeing something that, give a choice, you would elect to avoid. The other day my Mom encouraged me to listen to the new Neil Young disk, so I naturally go to Mark’s site and copy the review to my Mom only to realize later that it is littered with outlandish obscenities, making me not happy that I sent it to my mom. So, here is my challenge to you Mark, use your amazing wordsmithing to write with decency; make me laugh at clean things. Your site would be so much more accessible and would improve vastly.

During my teen years I read Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone’s Record Review, first edition. He cannot be beaten for dead on reviews. Mark’s a lot funnier, though. So, go to Mark’s site! Yes, enjoy it and get into a whole bunch of cool new bands, they are out there waiting for you!

Bird Flu, Mad Cow, etc...

Remember mad cow disease? It is still around. And look at the following quote and report from the Global Development Briefing, November 2005 about bird flu. The opening quote sums up perfectly my thoughts on the problems with the way animals are treated and why these strange diseases keep cropping up in them. In the name of increasing production, people treat animals as products that require human manipulation to be fit for our use. These weird diseases are the logical consequence.

"We are wasting valuable time pointing fingers at wild birds when we should be focusing on dealing with the root causes of this epidemic spread which are clearly to be found in rural poultry practices, the movement of domestic poultry, and farming methods which crowd huge numbers of animals into small spaces."

-- William Karesh, an observer with the Task Force convened by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and director of Field Veterinary Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, on efforts to combat the deadly avian flu. Ever since the first human case of bird flu, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was reported in January last year, UN health officials have warned that the avian flu, otherwise known as the H5N1 virus, could evolve into a global influenza pandemic if it mutates into a form which could be transmitted easily between people. The UN will launch an appeal later this week for at least $50 million to improve animal surveillance in the fight against bird flu, said Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Changes in Policy or Lifestyle?

I found what follows in the latest Global Development Briefing report. I paste it here because this guy is right, no efforts are ever made to change things by encouraging people to review their diet or lifestyle. Every effort to avoid asking people to do this is made. Really, people don't want to be told what to do with their lives, nor do they want to make changes in their lifestyle or diet, even when other's welfare is at stake. Take a look and see what you think:

"If there is a choice between an entrecote or a chicken filet or a fish -- which requires almost no water because it lives in the water anyway -- then you could make a more enlightened choice."
-- Anders Berntell, head of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), speaking to Reuters on the margins of the World Water Week conference, noting that most efforts to curb water use tend to focus on more efficient irrigation, which takes about three quarters of all water used by humans, rather than on ways to encourage consumers to review their diets and lifestyles. He suggested that labeling foods ranging from spaghetti to meat to show how much water is used in their production could help combat mounting pressure on the world's water supplies. A calorie of food typically demands a liter of water to produce, according to UN estimates, but a kilo of industrially produced meat needs 10,000 liters, while a kilo of grain requires just 500-4,000 liters.
A third of the world's population is suffering from a shortage of water, raising the prospect of water crises in countries such as China, India and the US. Scientists had forecast in 2000 that one in three would face water shortages by 2025, but water experts have been shocked to find that this threshold has already been crossed. The findings come from a report compiled by 700 experts over five years, the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture from the International Water Management Institute, presented Aug. 21 at World Water Week in Stockholm. About a quarter of the world's population lives in areas of 'physical water shortage,' where natural forces, over-use and poor agricultural practices have led to falling groundwater levels and rivers drying up, it said. But a further one billion people face "economic water shortages," because they lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers.