Water Shaping Human Civilization


Water is the most powerful element on the planet. It cleanses and nourishes every living organism. In small doses, it is delicate and barely noticeable. It can also be a force in nature compared to no other as seen in the brute force of the Tsunamis of the past decade that have killed hundreds of thousands of people, and decimated Asian industry in recent years.

Over time, Egyptians and Mayans, along with other ancient cultures, understood the importance of water. Their economic structure was dependent on the flooding from Spring that would produce the harvest for the following year. Egyptians understood this to the point that they measured the water level of the Nile River each Spring, and if it was high, they would tax the farmers more because the farmer’s perceived crop would be larger than usual due to the silt-rich water the Nile carried to the farmer’s irrigation structure. Middle Eastern, Asian, and European civilizations all had similar economies that were water-centric.

Over time, ancient civilizations learned to bring water to them instead of moving themselves to water. Ancient Libya, Rome, and Greece learned to move the water to their metropolises through the power of gravity in aqueducts and ancient man-made tunnels. This single innovation changed civilizations forever.

Roman Aqueduct at Pont du Gard (France)

This ability to move water on a mass scale has been both a blessing and a curse for modern civilizations. On the one hand, it has allowed cities to grow to unimaginable size. On the other hand, these cities come to rely on a constant water source, and when interrupted, chaos inevitably ensues. One example of failure is seen in the 11,000 km of irrigation canals the British created in India during their occupation. The canals were built to support transportation and irrigation throughout the country, but now they are the single largest source of the malaria-carrying mosquitos.

We have faced many territorial disputes all over the world over water and they seem to be escalating. Pakistan and India argue over the Indo River. Jordan, Syria and Israel War over the Jordan River. Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia fight over the Nile. The United States and Mexico continue to be at odds over the Colorado River, which has not reached the Sea of Cortez since the early 1990s. We also have major quality issues with the water as most rivers and lakes are at the center of major population growth and use.


Colorado River (USA and Mexico)


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