Cover photo : Roman engineers of Antiquity built highly developed water supply systems. The Pont du Gard (c.

19 BC) in southern France, below, is only a small section of a 40-kilometre-long conduit, mostly underground, which carried water to the city of Nimes. Its 3 tiers of arches rise to over 47 metres. The highest tier, carrying the conduit, consists of 35 4.6-metre arches."

Introduction I. History: understanding the water cycle II. Paradise: water as friend - a gift of the gods III. Paradise lost: water as a danger and source of conflict A) Water as foe: waterborne diseases and natural disasters B) Water as power: "water" civilizations C)Water as an ecological and legal challenge: the public and private domains D) Water as victim: forms of pollution Conclusion References


lakes) and groundwater which. condensation. director for many years of Monaco's Jardin Exotique. with the exception of fossil water. Kautilya. ORSTOM (Institut français de recherche scientifique pour le développement en coopération) and SENAMHI (Servicio Nacional de Meteorolgía e Hidrología)br> Casilla 2352. and hence wealth. Cochabamba. water is presented in its various aspects: as friend and foe of humankind. had rain measured in pails placed in front of rural stores. The first book on scientific hydrology in the Western world was De l'origine des fontaines (On the origin of springs).Alain GIODA Hydrologist. a common heritage and a victim. To measure the evapotranspiration of plants the French mathematician de la Hire built three lysimeters in 1688. the Koreans started . Outside Europe.: (591-42) 47033. (b) the clouds ( This article is dedicated to the memory of two European botanists who took a keen interest in the history of science and the flora of Latin America: Dr Marcel Kroenlein. and Pierre Fontanel. In 1687 the Englishman Edmond Halley calculated the evaporation rate of the Mediterranean and then compared that figure with the contributions of the rivers flowing into the sea. The purpose is to illustrate in a historical and global context the diversity. and to a very small extent. a young engineer from Montpellier specializing in weeds After a historical evocation of the concept of the water cycle. and in India. This cycle has three components: (a) the sea. Fax: (591-42) 56321. vegetation (evaporation and evapotranspiration driven by solar energy). written by Pierre Perrault and published in 1674 in Paris by Pierre Le Petit. Perrault created a water balance in a basin located in the upper section of the Seine River. In terms of public services. Owing nothing to the West. precipitation). e-mail: gioda@bo. a minister of the Maurya dynasty (321-185 BC). an apple of discord. a source of power. Bolivia Tel. however. used horseback riders who travelled faster than the water. the Chinese had understood the water cycle 500 years before the birth of Christ. and (c) continental surface water (springs. run into the sea after a certain period of time. rivers. set up by the Chinese in 1574 on the Yellow River. I) HISTORY: understanding the water cycle Only in the late seventeenth century did European scientists reach a clear understanding of the origin of water and its natural cycle. of the connections between people and water. the first flood-warning system.

In a basically rural world water had virtually no connection with commerce since water from springs. In ancient Egypt the lower castes thought that the Nile was just a branch of the Mediterranean and believed that the sea water rose in the river. Aristotle (384-322 BC) developed the fanciful notion that river flow resulted in part from the condensation of vapour of groundwater. Nevertheless. The Nile flooded at the height of the dry season and those living along its banks did not know where the source of the river was. That discovery was only made in the late nineteenth century by Europeans. known as naumachiae. were constructed for water sports. especially under the influence of Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo (1564-1642). it would have been necessary to estimate the large quantity of sea water evaporated by the heat of the sun. that was not possible since it was assumed that the seas covered only a limited surface area in a flat and disc-shaped world. II) Paradise: water as friend . measured the floods with the first scales to be set in the bed of the river. Water was a gift from the gods. Further questions arose from the observation that the rivers continued to flow even after the rain had stopped.a gift of the Gods For thousands of years water was considered to be a fixed element of the the end of the imperial epoch 11 major aqueducts were transporting water to the city. rivers and river branches. like air. There was a general aversion to interfering with nature's cycle. the famous nilometers. What was feeding the rivers? In contrast to more plausible hypotheses. itself produced by the flux and desalinization of sea water in the ground. faded out in the West. To solve this.taking regular. however. in much the same way as in a bay in Brittany. a metal in abundant . The historian Pierre Grimal calls Rome the `city of water' . The educated classes. wells and cisterns was available at little or no cost depending on whether or not it was supplied by slave labour. Egypt presented another paradox for the ancient world. Special amphitheatres. systematic rainfall measurements in 1441 and have continued doing so ever since. Mills turned day and night to provide water for fountains and gigantic hot baths. However. by around 144 BC the inverted siphon technique had been mastered with the use of pipes made from lead. the ancient Romans and urban-dwellers in particular being no exception. This notion. inherited from Ptolemy (90-168 AD). The principal mystery of the water cycle was why the sea level did not rise despite the continuous inflow from the rivers.

Waterborne parasites are predominantly responsible for diseases in the developing world. 100 to 150 million new cases each year. The fashion then reappeared in Europe during the baroque period. bacterial and viral dysenteries in new-born babies. that the popularity of spas reached its height. under the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD) the daily amount of water supplied to each Roman was approximately 1. . Among virus-caused diseases. 90 per cent of which are in Africa. chronicler of the life of Potosí. Louis Pasteur and his students demonstrated the role played by germs in infectious diseases and the consequent importance of good hygiene. hepatitis A. This estimate does not. seven world pandemics have killed hundreds of thousands. These include malaria (1 million deaths annually. To this group should be added severe parasitic. Around 1730 in the new world.000 litres. the peasants worshipped Tláloc. bilharziasis (300 million people at risk). In fact. Spa. Bath and Montecatini flourished. Bartolomeo Arzáns. with the rediscovery of the body and the health cult. water sports and hot baths. In Aztec Mexico. written in 1887. still considered rain a divine phenomenon. symbolized by a frog or a toad. transformed mist into water for the early inhabitants of the island of Hierro. cholera continues to be the most notorious in Europe as a result of the 1854 epidemic which left nearly 150. the god of rain. and filariasis. however. until the year 1610. Among the bacterial disorders. water was the essential factor in the stability and organization of the preColumbian peoples of Mexico. Vichy. But it was not until the eighteenth and. Guy de Maupassant provided a realistic description of the opening of a rural spa. In Mont-Oriol. After the fall of Rome and then Constantinople. the nineteenth century. the Arabs and the Persians pursued and refined the tradition of in the area that later became Spain. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. allow for leaks and enormous water losses from the ancient system.000 dead in France. Water was a gift from the gods like the fountain tree or holy tree of the Canary Islands which. At the end of the nineteenth century. In France the Empress Eugénie set the style by going to spas. 300 million parasite carriers). Waterborne diseases of parasitic. According to bibliographical sources. humankind very soon lost the key to paradise. even more so. the largest city in the Americas of the seventeenth century. like cholera. bacterial or viral origin are widespread. is spread by dirty hands and contaminated water. propagated by human beings as a result of poor hygiene or mismanagement of water. The Incas believed that Lake Titicaca was the centre of the original world. III) Paradise lost: water as a danger and source of conflict A) Water as foe: waterborne diseases and natural disasters Nevertheless. Baden-Baden. Marienbad.

eight years of massive rainfall and record flooding in the period 1313-1320 affected the whole of Europe and. where the equivalent term is `galerías'. According to the Ant sura in the Koran. a frequent feature in the Mediterranean region. B) Water as power: "water" civilizations Since ancient times the control of water has symbolized power in the Middle East. generally using water from aquifer drainage. it was owing to the impiety of its subjects that the kingdom disappeared because of water. which flourished in environments that then became just about as arid as they are at present. oxen became unshoed and ells propagated outside ponds. just as it had prospered from it. where such conduits were called `foggaras'. in the eighth century BC. whose future reservoirs and intake structures could make the Aswan dam and its irrigated farming obsolete. In the Winchester area of England the hay would not dry. in what is now Turkey. Qanaats . Other well-known contemporary cases involve rivers that cross international boundaries: countries located upstream can control the amount of water available to the countries lying further downstream. To this day Israel carefully monitors its water supply. The price of grain was three times the average for the period 1270-1350. and more recently those of Nîmes. D. Working from Old Testament evidence. However. led to the Guil tragedy in June 1957 in the upper Durance. symbolized by the destruction of the only dam in Ma'rib around 300 AD. This type of system. Assyria and the kingdom of Saba'. it requires a powerful. Egypt is dependent on the political situation in Ethiopia. The historian Wittfogel referred to `water' civilizations. In addition to these natural disasters. the clearest example involving the power of water was the fall of the kingdom of Saba'. which supplied water from the spring of Gihon. that is. in 1315-1316. In France. anarchic land use and the permanent occupation of large river beds.were invented by the inhabitants of Urartu. Gill developed the theory that King David had been able to take Jerusalem by using the city's underground conduits. civilizations based on the ownership and control of water. India. More people died than in the great plague of 1349. especially in arid and semi-arid mountain regions. interconnected network to meet its needs. Clear examples are the civilizations of Egypt. Egypt. where water is in particularly short supply. Jordan and Israel have recently concluded an agreement concerning their utilization of the waters of the Jordan. the Magreb. was to be applied in Persia. and the Canary Islands.artificial underground tunnels transporting water over great distances . harvests were pitifully small. produced one of the worst famines of the Middle Ages. The Palestinian entity will soon be faced with water shortages and consequent dependency on the state of Israel. improper land use aggravated flooding and triggered erosion. described by the hydrologist Maurice Pardé. Vaison-la-Romaine and the Maritime Alps. Greece.Among the major rains and floods of history. C) Water as en ecological and legal challenge: the public and private domains . a veritable water tower of the Nile.

The first pesticide. Phosphorus has likewise recently impaired the quality of standing water through over-enrichment or deoxygenation. which meant that rivers and their branches could not be commercialized. Moreover as a counterweight to the conflicts between public and private rights. Article 642 of the Civil Code provides that persons possessing a spring on their land may use the springwater at will within the limits and the needs of their property. Throughout history water rights have been largely subsumed under property rights. pesticides were not widely used until Muller discovered the properties of DDT in 1940. making the amount or volume of water a relatively insignificant issue.used on grapevines. are the main chemical contaminants. however. their buildings and fixtures. was the Bordeaux mixtur (1) . According to modern French law. The political and military power of the feudal system was limited by rural communities for which water. By the 1566 Edit of Moulins the royal authority in France decreed that all rivers and their tributaries carrying boats belonged to the crown. However. It may also surrender its fishing right. navigation canals. produced . dams constructed on territory within the public domain. in practice the law grants landowners unlimited use of the water flowing from a spring on their property. were still honoured. public waters consist of navigable lakes. including nonnavigable branches. paradoxically. which appeared in 1885. widely used since antiquity. Heavy metals. Thermal pollution usually occurs downstream of nuclear power stations. provides that riparians may use waters bordering or crossing their property solely within the limits determined by law. which was incorporated into the act of 3 January 1992. and watercourses from the point of navigability to the mouth. The state may grant private parties personal water use rights or the right temporarily to occupy the public domain. The abundance of nitrates in our waters is also a recent phenomenon due to intensified livestock farming and excessive soil fertilization in the rich countries and a lack of proper latrines in Third World cities. which included fishing and the use of mills and barges. Today organic and thermal pollution have become significant factors. D) Water as victim: forms of pollution In the past most pollution caused by human activity was chemical. with over-fertilization of the soil and the general practice of direct drainage of household waste. Furthermore. Under Article 106 of the Rural Code. previously acquired individual rights. no damming or work to establish a water intake system. was a public property and could not be appropriated by feudal right. This property right also implies the right to conduct excavation work regardless of any repercussions downstream. by virtue of being continually renewed. recent French legislation (the acts of 3 January 1992 and 2 February 1995) has reinforced the concept of a common heritage. Article 2 of the act of 8 April 1898. Advances in personal hygiene and the use of phosphate-based detergents have. Nonpublic watercourses constitute a complex legal domain. water mill or factory may be undertaken on any such watercourse without official authority.Under Roman law flowing water was considered to be public property.

dozens of mills and factories along the banks of the Vera Cruz river ground silver ore and alloyed it with mercury.000 in the period between 1610 and 1650. Potosí had a population of more than 150. with a maximum acceptable threshold of 0. the more dangerous are the illnesses they cause. named after the Japanese town where. about the same as Paris at the time. we would also be indirectly saving water since it is indispensable in hydroelectric. Yann L'Hôte. Eugenio Rabbia (ORSTOM. can cause Minamata disease. while a quick shower uses only 20 litres. Gérard Grosclaude (INRA. disappears and evaporates. this affliction has ravaged people and cats eating contaminated fish. Conclusion Knowing what we do about the history and crucial value of water. Aristophanes. generally speaking.the higher their concentration in the food chain is. in his play `The Clouds'. in particular.05 milligrams per litre. causing spectacular and foul-smelling green tides. The introduction of mercury in the silver making process in 1572 brought great economic wealth to Potosí. in France. the lead content in water may not exceed 0. and mercury contamination has increased downstream of the gold deposits in rivers flowing towards Bolivian. inspired by the Japanese writer Tanizaki Junichiro. such as the Adriatic. (1) A copper-sulphate based liquid used to protect grapevines. is no. Our farming sector. Lead poisoning was very common in ancient Rome when water pipes were made of lead.which requires about 200 litres of water.a contaminant which also affects the seas. needs to turn its attention to managing water resources and improving their quality. a clin d'oeil from ancient Greece: realizing that water flows. An isolated town 4. Nantes). and also . we learn to `praise the darkness'. it offers virtually no models or lessons for our contemporaries or for us. Since the sixteenth century there has been continuous mercury contamination of the rivers and waters of upper Peru especially around the city of Potosí. under current European norms. Yet. can we say that we are thrifty enough with it? Are we helping to preserve its quality? The answer. The world will be cleaner and water clearer when we dispense with the cult of whiteness and stop advertising detergents. thermal and nuclear power stations. Mercury. And in conclusion. if we started saving a day . Peruvian and Brazilian Amazonia. Today streams from the higher altitudes down to the Pilcomayo still lap against old and new silver ore slag heaps. Although an examination of European history may reveal the source of mistakes made. for example. when we lower the dazzling light of our lamps and. Montpellier). We take too many baths . which has had record crops and is moving into the export market.001 milligrams per litre. I wish to thank. since the Second World War. In the early seventeenth century. runs through our fingers and then hides itself. The use of heavy metals is carefully monitored .000 metres up in the Andes. reaches the logical conclusion that writing about the water cycle is the height of futility.

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