Saturday, September 30, 2006

Running Dry

From the N.Y. Times:
Bhanwar Lal Yadav, once a cultivator of cucumber and wheat, has all but given up growing food. No more suffering through drought and the scourge of antelope that would destroy what little would survive on his fields.

Today he has reinvented himself as a vendor of what counts here as the most precious of commodities: the water under his land.

Each year he bores ever deeper. His well now reaches 130 feet down. Four times a day he starts up his electric pumps. The water that gurgles up, he sells to the local government — 13,000 gallons a day. What is left, he sells to thirsty neighbors. He reaps handsomely, and he plans to continue for as long as it lasts.

“However long it runs, it runs,” he said. “We know we will all be ultimately doomed.”

Mr. Yadav’s words could well prove prophetic for his country. Efforts like his — multiplied by some 19 million wells nationwide — have helped India deplete its groundwater at an alarming pace over the last few decades.

The country is running through its groundwater so fast that scarcity could threaten whole regions like this one, drive people off the land and ultimately stunt the country’s ability to farm and feed its people.

With the population soaring past one billion and with a driving need to boost agricultural production, Indians are tapping their groundwater faster than nature can replenish it, so fast that they are hitting deposits formed at the time of the dinosaurs.
Suddenly, the concept of "sustainability" doesn't seem so vague after all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is arguing the concept of sustainability is vague? In any case, I rather suspect it is not vagueness as such but rather its abstract quality as a principle that iritates lesser minds or hard-headed realists without a taste for such things, those unable to tolerate the open-ended character of some concepts or a degree of indeterminacy in application. Indeed, even with respect to the law, where we value the virtues of clarity and precision, Timothy Endicott has rightly argued that 'vagueness is ineliminable from the legal system' (as is the exercise of discretion). The economist Partha Dasgupta, for one, does not see the concept of sustainability as vague, for he makes use of it in his Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 139-142; on pp. 28-30 he discusses the economic importance of measuring 'sustainable well-being.'

And in the International Court of Justice, in particular, the Gabcikovo Case (1982!), the conflict between the right to development and the duty to protect the environment was 'mediated' by the norm of sustainable development. In other words, economic development and protection of the environment were understood as values enshrined in legal principles that could only be reconciled with the principle of sustainable development. As Vaughan Lowe has argued, while the concept of sustainable development is not (yet?) a norm of customary international law, it does serve as what he terms an 'intersititial principle,' 'acting upon other, primary legal rules and principles--in this case, acting upon what the International Court took to be the legal principles of economic development and protection of the environment.' (See his 'The Politics of Law-Making: Are the Method and Character of Norm Creation Changing?,' in Michael Byers, ed., The Role of Law in International Politics: Essays in International Relations and International Law, 2000)

'Institutionalists' and market liberals have argued the principles of sustainable development need to be internalized in the decision-making processes of state bureaucracies, corporations, and international organizations.

Finally, Peter Woicke writes: 'There are three lingua franca of globalization: the language of finance, environmental sustainability, and human rights.' In fact, as Woicke notes, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) 'the private sector development lending arm of the World Bank Group, has in recent years become one of the few global financial institutions that has developed experience in the promotion of environmental sustainability.' This is an auspicious development....

10/01/2006 1:12 AM  

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