Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Global Water Crisis

Late last Friday afternoon, the water main that serves our row of townhouses broke. An unlucky owner a few doors down had his garage flooded. The water was shut off until late Saturday afternoon. Twenty-two hours with no running water at all.

Because we live in Earthquake Central, I try to be reasonably prepared to function for a few days without municipal services, so there was plenty of water stashed away in those big five-gallon jugs we all complain about because they're plastic. Friday, I loved those plastic jugs. They allowed us to have water for basic hygienic needs and water to drink. The phones worked, cable tv was fine, internet functioned, heat and a/c were unaffected. We went out to dinner. The lack of running water was a temporary inconvenience, not a disaster.

Not so elsewhere.

We take for granted the access we have to clean running water, but, even in our country, there are areas in which our citizens suffer without that fundamental benefit of civilization. I've written previously about the Navajo Water Haulers; here's further information from an article in The Arizona Republic.

Water problems in Africa are legendary. You can read about one Seattle woman's experience in Ethiopia in her January blog post for The Common Language Project. She explains, "I’m here to research and write on water scarcity issues. In the past three days I’ve interviewed a woman whose son died of typhoid and a man who held four of his children as diarrhea from waterborne dysentery drained the life from their small bodies. I watched an old woman fall to her knees and kiss the ground in thanks of water."

CNN Money offers an article about the problems of farmers in India as they attempt to cope with a water shortage that prevents them from growing their crops. Inefficient government subsidies, the overuse of tube wells and a maxed-out electrical grid have resulted in a dramatic lowering of the water table. According to the article, Shreekant Gupta, professor of economics at Delhi University, say, "It's a classic example of bad economic policies having serious environmental consequences."

Colin Beavan at the No Impact Man blog speculates about when what's happening to gas happens to drinking water. His post offers a chilling scenario about supply and demand in which companies like Nestle, Coca-Cola and Pepsi buy up water rights the same way that only a few now infamous companies bought oil drilling rights.

Back here at home, the LA Times reports that we're facing the worst water shortage in decades.

Fortunately, there are organizations working to make clean water available to everyone. Living Water International is a fine example.

But the problem isn't just one of infrastructure (although that's certainly a key element); it's one of attitude: the attitude of entitlement that those of us with easy access to clean running water have. It's that same attitude of entitlement that makes us feel like we "need" so much more -- of everything -- than we have. It's definitely not an attitude that will allow us to thrive as stewards of our small planet. It's an attitude that may not even allow us to survive.

I turned on the tap this morning and clean water poured out. For a brief moment, I barely remembered not being able to enjoy the wonder of that privilege just days ago. Then I smiled with appreciation for all the things we take for granted that make our lives comfortable.

Focusing on the basics always makes it easier to keep all the other "stuff" in perspective.

© 2008 Cynthia Friedlob


Ayesha said...

“Lack of safe water and adequate sanitation is the world’s single largest cause of illness,” it says, and “can spread such diseases as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, trachoma and tapeworms — many of which can be fatal to people in the developing world.”

And there are other water-associated diseases, such as malaria and filariasis, that affect vast populations worldwide. Malaria alone kills more than one million people every year.

The UN warns that increased urbanisation is also placing an enormous strain on existing water and sanitation infrastructure.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Most of us who are fortunate to have easy access to clean water have no idea what it must be like to live in the tragic conditions much of the world endures.

Thank you for your comment, Ayesha.