Water: What many of us take for granted

October 15 is Blog Action Day. The theme this year is water. The statistics outlining the dire situation of almost a billion people around the world without proper access to water and sanitation is deplorable. Hopefully the recent decision by the UN General Assembly declaring that access to water and sanitation is a human right will have some impact among states. It should encourage them to take the necessary measures to provide access to water for all their citizens, with special consideration for marginalized populations (from minorities to people in rural areas to urban slums to refugee camps). It should also be an opportunity for non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations to strengthen their efforts to make governments accountable for upholding their human rights obligations with respect to water and sanitation.

As a Canadian living in a large metropolitan area, I have no worries about access to water and sanitation. In fact, Canadians are among the biggest water consumers in the world. Among OECD countries, only the US out-consumes us. We consume 1600 cubic metres of water per person per year. We’re spoiled, and let me tell you what irks me:

  • Anyone who drinks bottled water, especially “purified” water like Dasani or Aquafina, which is nothing but tap water bottled by Coca-Cola and Pepsi. A friend of mine who grew up in Kuwait once told me how shocked he was seeing people buy bottled water in Canada. “Just turn on the tap and drink it, it’s fine! In Kuwait, our tap water had sand in it, we had no choice but to buy bottled water.”
  • People who take 30-minute showers. I am not exaggerating. My wife and I stayed with a couple once where one of them…oh let’s call her Gloria…took a half hour shower. How can anyone be that dirty? Since then, if either one of us takes a shower lasting more than a few minutes, we criticize each other for taking a “Gloria shower.”
  • Neighbours who water their lawn in the summer time, the whole damn night. OK, so it’s one neighbour. And our city usually enforces a ban on watering during the summer months, but it’s rarely enforced, and certainly not monitored at night. So his lawn is prettier than mine. My weeds are green enough.
Water pipes at the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp, Beirut, 2008.
The water is tapped from municipal water sources and distributed among the refugees.
They also relied on barrels of water brought into the camp.

I try to be appreciative of what we have. It helps that I’ve lived in situations where I have had little or no access to water – I think those situations have helped me put matters in perspective. When I taught in Malawi in 1994, the boarding school where I taught closed down for three months due to drought. During my second year living in Ghana in the late 90s, that country was also afflicted by drought and there were days when I had to make do with one bucket of water. That bucket had to suffice for all my needs except for drinking (I was lucky to have access to bottled water). Bathing would take up about 2 litres, then any remaining dirty water was poured in the toilet’s tank ad then used whenever necessary. The rest of the water was used for cooking or laundry. It was damn annoying for a few months. My life was never at risk, but it was inconvenienced. So when I see statistics telling me that almost a billion people don’t have access to clean water, it bugs me. When I read that 38000 children under the age of 5 will die this week from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic conditions, it bugs me. And when someone buys tap water in a bottle, that also bugs me.

3 thoughts on “Water: What many of us take for granted

  • Hello Paulo!
    I'm also participating in this global movement of awareness about water consumption and especially the care with the springs around the world.
    I live in the country containing the largest watershed in the world and we need to show the world and ourselves the responsibility for this great wealth.
    Around here, the consumer education is still early, but through our participation as the Internet, we will one day reach our goal.
    I enjoyed your comments about conscious consumption. Congratulations!
    best regards


  • Thanks to be part of Blog Action Day!
    Please read my post about Water’s footprint in Fashion: you’d be surprised at how much impact your personal or family clothing preferences have on the environment. http://wp.me/pXsUB-oi
    You can make the difference!


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