The World's Water Tables in Crisis: Background information when reading How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

A Novel

by Mohsin Hamid

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid X
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 240 pages
    Mar 2014, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The World's Water Tables in Crisis

Print Review

In How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, the protagonist starts out in the water business by boiling tap water and selling it in plastic water bottles. Later on, he is approached by the country's Defense Department because it wants to build a reliable and safe water supply for the country. But the protagonist and the head honchos in the government know that the water tables around the world are shrinking and that their goal might yet be a pipe dream. As Filthy Rich's narrator says, "You hear reports that the water table continues to drop, the thirst of many millions driving bore after steel bore deeper and deeper into the aquifer, to fill countless leaky pipes and seepy, unlined channels, phenomena with which you are intimately familiar and from which you have profited, but which are now contributing in places to a noticeable desiccation of the soil, to a transformation of moist, fertile, hybrid mud into cracked, parched, pure land."

AquiferThe water table is essentially a line beneath the surface of the earth under which there is a permeable layer of rock containing water. This water containing layer is known as an aquifer. Water tables rise with rainfall, snow and other kinds of precipitation. The steep global population growth alone would have been enough to put immense demands on the water table. Combine this with endless droughts brought about by global warming, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Increasingly around the world as water becomes a precious commodity, it is being pumped up from the earth and sometimes sold, and the water taken out is far exceeding the water going back in. The net result is that the water tables have been dropping at an alarming rate. This is the case in India, in Pakistan (both in 'rising' Asia), Egypt and even across the United States. Lowering water tables means increased toxicity from compounds being leached out into the soil from the surrounding rocks. Fluoride poisoning and cases of cancer are growing in parts of India that have been following this method of obtaining water.

The primary culprit that uses all this water is farming – and while it might be argued that whatever is not used up by the plant goes back into the soil, that is not always true. A lot is lost to evaporation. Methods such as drip farming might help, but they are only a small drop in the bucket.

The problems of water table declines are being felt all over the world including in Asia. Here are three specific regions facing a crisis:


The Gaza strip (a mere 365 sq. km) faces the most pressing problem with water expected to be unusable by 2016 (at current water table extraction rates) and the damage totally irreversible by 2020. Plans for a desalination plant are looking to get funded but the outlook, because of the Israel-Palestine conflict, looks bleak. Gaza shares its water aquifer with Israel and Egypt. The rate of water table loss is so severe that seawater from the Mediterranean is expected to rush in and render all that's left totally unusable. Even now, runoff from farms and toxic chemicals leaching into the water make the citizens extremely vulnerable to waterborne diseases. With Gaza's population expected to grow by 500,000 in just eight years, the crisis is of pressing importance.

India & Pakistan (South Asia)

According to the journal Water Resources Research, India is pumping out some 46 cubic miles (190 cubic kilometers) of water a year from below ground, while nature is refilling only 29 cubic miles (120 cubic kilometers), a shortfall of 17 cubic miles (70 cubic kilometers) per year. A cubic kilometer is 264.2 billion gallons, or about enough water to fill 400,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Close behind India, Pakistan is overpumping by 8.4 cubic miles (35 cubic kilometers). A National Geographic article shows how many farmers in India are selling water for a profit instead of farming their lands. This short-term gain is sure to lead to long-term crises for one of the most populous regions on the globe.

Texas, United States

The Ogallala Aquifer lies under about 80% of the high plains region of the USA, from South Dakota to Texas and is being depleted at such a rate that geologists believe it could be dry in 25 years. There is little chance of the aquifer being recharged as much of its water appears to date from the last ice age and the region is now semi-arid. Added to which most of the area is covered by a shallow layor of impermeable rock so groundwater cannot seap through to the aquifer; and areas, such as the salt lakes, which are permeable and therefore can help replenish the aquifer, are being damaged by development.

The state of Texas, which understands that citizens don't take kindly to governmental regulation, nevertheless had to impose limits on the amount of groundwater that could be drawn from the Ogallala Aquifer. It is an indication of how bad the water table problem is, especially after a series of droughts in the Lone Star State. Groundwater is considered private property in Texas, and landowners want to dig deeper and larger wells to meet the growing demand for water that natural replenishment is just not fulfilling. Earlier this month the Texas Supreme Court ruled that landowners legally own the groundwater underneath their land, and second, that landowners may be owed compensation if state or local regulations go too far in limiting the amount of groundwater landowners can pull. Exactly what defines "too far" is not made clear but it's a decision that is sure to have far-reaching impacts on the state's water resources.

National Geographic magazine has a fantastic series on freshwater, one of the world's most precious resources. You can even find out your water footprint and pledge to cut it. A recent issue was dedicated to the problem and the associated slideshow is a treat.

Article by Poornima Apte

This article is from the April 3, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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