Friday, October 15, 2010

Water Global Goldilocks' Porridge: Blog Action Day 2010

Water water everywhere and nary a drop to drink : The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Coleridge, 1797-8

Water: The world has lots of it, more than enough to meet our global needs. But like Goldilocks on her quest for the perfect bowl of porridge, there seems to be something wrong with it: Too much, too little, too salty, too dirty, too cold or too hot.

Okay: So the world has lots of water is a given.The problem is, I think, that we don't manage it as well as we could. Despite the fact that major agencies such as the UN hold regular conferences around the world to discuss water (and other) issues that affect us all, they never seem to come up with a concrete plan of action that could be implemented now.

Long term goals such as clean water for all within 10 years do not help someone who's thirsty today, or infected by dirty water diseases such as e.Coli, dysentery, typhoid or cholera, or awash in floodwaters today, or whose crops are ruined today.

With all these meetings to talk about clean water, and all the jobs created to discuss water issues -- all activities that benefit those who already have access to clean water, or are otherwise not directly affected by unpotable water, floods or drought -- you'd think that they would cut to the chase and come up with a plan of action that would work, and work fast.

What's the cost?
And this lack of water for drinking and agriculture, or surplus of water from floods and storms, costs a lot. You'd think at some point 'Have' governments would get tired of shelling out emergency funds to rescue 'Have Not' countries.

Really. If throwing money at peoples in distress was the answer, you'd think it would have worked by now. Or that the aid givers would have donor fatigue by now. Or that the aid givers would have come to that conclusion themselves and gotten serious about solving the issue.

Maybe we need to simplify the process of water management. Something as simple as asking countries to identify major problems by region and season, and what those countries determine as their water issues. And ask what they feel they need to overcome them. Then get busy and do a triage of issues to see what can be done first to benefit more people now.

And at the same time, ask scientists and engineers and manufacturers what they can offer to manage water issues, how much they cost, and how much infrastructure is required to implement and maintain. Point would be given according to sustainable solutions. I don't have the answers, but I know there are those who do. Over the past few years, I've heard about solutions to a variety of water problems, including:

Irrigation: I'm thinking here of a process developed to irrigate crops in India, and if memory serves, in parts of Africa, that used pedal power to move water from a distant source to simple channels in the fields and control runoff during rainy seasons. Like this National Geographic article

Potable water: There are osmosis processes to filter drinking water right in a bottle. Or, as does the Outer Banks of North Carolina, process salt water on a municipal basis.

Dam or channel rainwater: As do Ontario Canada's own Conservation Areas that were developed following a major hurricane flooding over 60 years ago. Or as in India, where a flood-prone village at the base of a mountain built a systems of channels, along the lines of a Plinko game, to baffle the water during heavy rains (article in National Geographic).

Stop wasting water:  National Geographic in 2009 did an article on Australia river water being diverted for use for agriculture in a historically dry area.

Collect Rainwater  As do rural Australia and Bermuda, collect rainwater and channel into cisterns. A friend from Australia is frustrated to tears to see water sprinklers on North American lawns; All that water for cosmetic purposes, ofter running off the lawn, down the street, into the storm sewer. "And that's all treated drinking water!" she says.

In Australia, at her home where the water supply is rainwater collected in a cistern, I learned to shower in under a minute. Indeed bath tubs, even in hotels, in Australia, and elsewhere, are rare and becoming rarer.

Water Wasting Hall of Shame Award Front Runner goes to Dubai, for among other things, Dubai pumps billions of gallons onto a golf course in the desert. 

We all need to be mindful of our water use. We cannot keep sucking the aquifers dry. Or filling them with pollutants.

"Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water."  Those numbers are so high, they are almost meaningless.

But on a trip to the Ethiopian Highlands, miles from any city or village, I came across people walking the dirt tracks and roads, carrying huge containers of water up and down steep hills.

They did this every day. Over the course of a week-long road trip, I saw hundreds of them.

And along river banks and even at the fabled Queen of Sheba Baths, the women were doing laundry, in dirty water.
UN (or other) Water Board: "Ethiopia, what do you need?'

Ethiopia: "Well, in the Highlands, we could use a way to collect water in the rainy season that we could access in the dry season. And a way to make is safe to drink. In the lowlands, we need some help with flooding. And we need a way to get water to crops everywhere."
UN (or other) Water Board: "Okay, we're on it.'

 And in Haiti, water is a triple threat: Lack of potable water, floods and drought areas. In Haiti, you first need money to buy clean water. You could try boiling dirty water from the community tap or well, but you'd first need a fire, and before that, money to buy charcoal to burn. When you have no money, you're pretty well sc**ed.
UN (or other) Water Board: "Haiti, what do you need?'

Haiti: "Well, we could use drinking water everywhere, and a way to manage flooding. Being smack dab in the path of Atlantic hurricanes, storms are a big problem. Also, we seemed to have burned up most of our trees for charcoal, so that's not helping. And Gonaives is always a flood problem. Then, too, standing water breeds mosquitoes that spread malaria and dengue fever, and no sewage systems means well water is filthy. And . . . "

UN (or other) Water Board: "Okay Haiti, we get it. You're a special case. Let's get to work on this and no internal political shenanigans while we get this sorted. OK?'

Of course, this blog post is simplistic, and not meant to trivialize this very real and important issue. Books can and indeed have been written on this topic. And managing water is all tied in with global warming and climate change. It's a huge issue and many dedicated people and groups are working on many fronts to address it.

But like when Goldilocks finally got to Baby Bear's porridge, we CAN get water 'just right'. We have the ability and the capability: We just need to get our act together and make it happen.

North America and Europe, or any areas with access to clean water in good supply can be lulled into 'I'm all right, Jack!' thinking. But really, it's only a matter of time until water becomes a major issue affecting all of us directly. The sooner we get serious about managing our resources the better off we all will be.

And one person CAN make a difference. It's getting all those Ones to become Many that will effect change. See What one person can do, an great graphic post by a talented Canadian artist Franke James.

 Lake Ontario, Mississauga Canada

I support two Canadian non profits working to bring, among other things, water to those who need it: Starthrower Foundation in Haiti and Bob and Sue Black Gumuz project and the work of, in Ethiopia.

Throw your support behind agencies working to bring clean water to others and keep on nagging governments to get busy on solutions!