Just come off the beach? Doesn’t that cool shower feel good on your tingling skin? Isn’t that cool water from the tap refreshing? Spent the morning gardening or cleaning the house? Back aching? Isn’t that hot bath bliss, isn’t the cold bottle of water you took out of the ‘fridge refreshing? Ever stop to think what a world with limited access to water is like?
Today is Blog Action Day. Something which began a few years back, it’s a day on which bloggers (and this year I timidly consider myself a blogger finally) throughout the World unite to write about an issue of International concern. This year the topic is water. For me this is a topic which is at the very core of improving our world, and of not letting it slide into chaos. It impinges on almost every other issue you can name, climate change, poverty, maternal mortality, education, even gender discrimination (countless women in developing countries spend half their days simply obtaining water for the family’s daily use – going to a well and carrying the water back, whilst we worry about not having time to fit in a visit to the hairdresser this week).
I’m the worst person in the world for taking things for granted. I take for granted, for instance that everyone in the western world understands this urgency we have to conserve water. I turns out, however, that people don’t. What they do do is take water, amongst other things, for granted.
Quite simply we are using too much. I hear tales every year from England of water shortages and hosepipe bans, even when it seems to be constantly raining. Basically, this is a form of rationing, and if you are my age or older you will remember all about that. If we don’t control our own usage, then it has to be controlled for us in order to make sure that there is enough to go around. In other words it’s like wartime.
There’s another side to saving water too. It saves energy. Before water reaches our taps it’s treated to be as healthy as possible, something it’s easy to understand in the Canary Islands, where we see standing water in local reservoirs, and can see the problems close up of maintaining water in condition fit for human consumption. It’s also treated after we’ve used it. All our waste water is treated before being disposed of back into the natural world, the aim of this to do as little damage as possible to our world, and, quite literally, to make sure we aren’t swimming in shit. The less water we use, the less energy we are burning to cleanse at both ends of usage. As with so many things we can do which are environmentally friendly it ends up saving us money too.
So often we are shocked by tales of environmental disasters and feel helpless because we are seemingly such a small cog in such a vast machine, but saving water is something we can easily do daily, and boost our self esteem in knowing we are doing “our bit”. How?
- When you’re brushing your teeth, turn off the water until you need to rinse. Experts say we can save up to 8 gallons of water per day doing this!
- Don’t use more water than you need in the shower or the bath – an inch less in the bath, 2 minutes less in the shower – will it be so inconvenient for you?
- Recycle water where you can, using bath water for watering plants for example.
- Wash your clothes on the cold water cycle unless they are really dirty. Mostly, we wash our clothes to freshen them up. A cold water wash will very often suffice for this purpose. The only articles which need a really hot wash are items of bedlinen (this because of bedbugs). Doing this not only are you using a wash cycle which requires less water, but you’re saving on energy too.
- Don’t over water the garden, and keep all hosepipes and water filtration pipes in good condition, fixing leaks as soon as you see them, and not watering spaces where nothing grows (as I’ve seen so often in the public areas around here of late!).
Those are just a few, very basic, very easy ideas which we can all do almost without giving it any more thought, and which will, happily, leave you a bit in your pocket for an extra cappuccino or beer.
In the developing world what do you think they would give to have our problems?
- How much do you think someone would give to have a tap to turn on and off when brushing their teeth?
- What must it be like not to have a daily shower or bath, but to have to make do with soaping oneself down and rinsing off by pouring a bucket of (probably murky) water over oneself?
- Can you imagine a world where there is no option but to recycle water, or to have it to recycle? Where water is not something which can be taken for granted, but a precious commodity?
- Can you imagine a world without washing machines, without the option for a hot or a cold wash?
Water is the single, most crucial factor in world poverty and disease prevention. Every time there is an earthquake, a tsunami or flood we hear about cholera and dysentery, but there are many more diseases transmitted by contaminated water. One of the nastiest is guinea worm. The problem here comes from a person drinking a tiny flea along with their drinking water, the flea bears an even tinier larvae, and inside the human body this larvae feeds and grows, until they finally erupt through the skin, first forming a painful blister. They can grow up to three feet long. Can you imagine living in a world where there is the possibility that a simple drink of water can produce such pain?
There are other dangers as well as direct waterbourne diseases too. Where water is scarce and there are no ‘fridges, it’s left to stand, and standing water attracts? Mosquitoes, yes, and in Africa and some other places in the world mosquitoes, of course, carry malaria. Despite all we read about AIDS Malaria remains the most common disease in Africa, and the availability of clean water for all would almost wipe out the problem.
Ten years ago now, most countries in the world signed up in support of The Millennium Goals. 2015 was set as an acceptable date for the accomplishment of these objectives, so we are two thirds of the way there. There isn’t one of these goals which wouldn’t be aided by access to clean water.
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Water is needed for cultivation. Water is the most basic element of nutrition needed. Water will help to preserve foods, cook them, give people the strength to work.
- Achieve universal primary education. Children are often water carriers and can’t go to the school because they spend their days simply going to the river or the well each day. Further, carrying heavy containers of water is responsible for injuries and infirmities in children.
- Promote gender equality and empower women. Like children, women are the water carriers in many places. Not only do they pass their entire lives in this boring and physically hard work, but when they go off in search of water they are often targeted by rapists.
- Reduce child mortality rate. This seems to me almost to facile to comment on. Clean water is needed for sanitation, for disease prevention, to combat malaria, to relieve children from their burdens as water carriers, just to name a few reasons.
- Improve maternal health. This is, happily, an area in which much improvement as been seen since 2000, but clean water both at the time of birth and for the mother’s health whilst pregnant is essential.
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. It goes without saying that water is absolutely essential for sanitation, just to be able to wash one’s hands when necessary is a luxury in some instances – NB all those women I observe exiting the loo without washing their hands, both here and in the UK!! In addition, the possibility for malaria breeds in standing water. In some countries, for example, people stand the bed legs in bowls or cans of water to prevent other insects from ascending, meanwhile, mosquitoes are thriving in the water!
- Ensure environmental sustainability. Basically, applying this to water means that we don’t waste or overuse the resources we have, and that in the developing world, as water is harnessed to provide for man’s needs, it’s done in ways we now know work. The planet cannot afford for the entire world to waste water in the way we now do in the “West”.
- Develop a global partnership for development. How ironic is it that in this “first” world we are wasting water, and taking it for granted, whilst in nations which aspire to achieve the standard of living we enjoy the one thing on which their development pivots is water? One other thing – access to water has fuelled conflicts since the beginning of man’s history. It’s always been essential to us. It’s only in very recent times that we have taken it for granted. I’ve read articles which claim that the Palestine/Israel conflict is, essentially, about water, rather than anything else. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree with that, but the authors made convincing arguments.
Over the last few years I’ve learned a lot about water, I’ve been to talks,I’ve read books, and I’ve read articles and watched videos, and this has been a very brief summary of my take. In the “West” we take our right to clean water for granted, in the developing nations they are dying for lack of this simple substance. Two conclusions I’ve made:
One: to try to use as little as possible (whilst retaining a good standard of living). It’s really easy. It doesn’t require any special equipment, adaptations or expense. In fact it saves me money.
Two: I don’t have much money to spare these days, when I give to an NGO I have to make a decision, based partly on the facts and partly, I have to admit, on emotion (as in the case of breast cancer). Since it seems to be that a lot of other worthy endeavors in the world are hampered by lack of water then it seems a very, very fundamental thing, and I will be favoring NGOs which work in this field in the future. Here are a couple I’ve come across:
Charity Water.com stars like Will Smith have signed up to be involved with this NGO.
Water.org of which actor, Matt Damon is a founding member.
Alternatively, just google the world “water” or the words “saving water” or “water and a sustainable environment” and see what information you come up with. There are mountains of stuff from food giant Nestlé to school projects.