Thursday, February 13, 2014

Water, water everywhere ...

... nor any drop to drink.

(The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

I got the opportunity to attend a Toastmasters competition on Tuesday at the Women's Institute of Management Toastmaster Chapter. It was a lovely evening, watching the competitors pitting their wits and skills to speak spontaneously on a variety of topics.

 Competitor 1, Mr T, who is generous with advice and smiles.

 Mr. S, the main man for the event.

 Mr G, who is a fount of amusing tales.

 My pal, Ms. M, who invited me and won the Table Topics competition.

The Table Topic of the competition was "A Day without Water". All the competitors came up with their own tales of dehydration that were hilarious and yet thought provoking. As I listened to them wax lyrical for seven minutes, it made me think a little deeper about our relationship with water; more specifically, running water.

We take water for granted. We turn on the tap and we expect the life giving liquid to gush forth. We expect the water to be clean, safe and harbour no nasty critters. Oh, it also gotta be clear and odourless and tasteless, unlike what the reporters for the Sochi Winter Olympics encountered. Woe betide SYABAS and its ilk should there be unscheduled (and even scheduled) water interruption.

We forget that in many parts of the world (including our own backyard!), clean water supply is an enviable luxury. There are still pockets within our own nation where there are no tap water available. My father's kampung and my paternal aunt's house in Jeram had no piped water before the 1990s. We had to draw water from the communal well for bathing, going to the toilet (if you are lucky there are outhouses which you flush by dumping a pail of water into the toilet, otherwise it's the bushes for you. Try to avoid prickly ones or plants that can cause rashes.), cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry. Having ice cold baths in broad daylight where anyone getting to the main road is sure to get an eyeful breeds a certain je ne sais quois that I have no problem bathing in public in nothing but a scanty sarong.

The communal well was surrounded by a concrete platform that was wet and covered in moss and was slippery as hell when you are wearing the de rigeur selipar Jepun. Unlike the pretty wells illustrated in fairy tale books, these have NO RETAINING WALL AROUND THE WELL. If you are unlucky, you could slip and fall into it with barely a splash. Many times when we return home, my Mum would have to make several visits to the masseuse; her back and shoulders were strained by carrying water. The communal well was replaced by the communal water pump in the late 80s and by the early 90s, there are piped water supply. However, if you ask me to pick between having electricity versus piped water supply, I think you know which one I will pick, regardless of my Internet addiction.

We forget that millions of women and girls trek for miles daily to get water for their household use and even for watering their crops from rivers, water holes and groundwater pumps. Some places like Cambodia and India have a severe arsenic groundwater contamination, rendering their water supply unsafe. Drought stricken places in the US and Australia (among others) have problem meeting the demand for water and have to impose water restriction. In Chile, they have to harvest water from mist and fog because water supply is so limited.

When water supply is at a premium, basic sanitation is also compromised. The developed countries have measures to address this but for many places still lagging behind in infrastructure development. Poor sanitation is a major contributor of deaths in developing countries, particularly for infants and children. The governments' inability to provide for such basic infrastructure has led to some drastic measures being taken. For instance, in India, the groom who cannot provide proper latrine facilities will not get a bride.

Be grateful that you can flush.

Water is deemed as a basic right for all mankind. This idea sounds grand on paper but it gets screwed up when national boundaries and politicians get involved. How many people are aware that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more about water and land than about religion? Tension and skirmishes have occured in Africa, South America, and Asia over control of this precious resource. It is expected that the adverse effects of climate change on water supply could lead to greater conflicts among nations.

Managing water as a sustainable resource is imperative and should be the focus of all. Sadly, it is evident that care for water supply is often sacrificed in the face of greed. Our thirst for fossil fuel has damaged our water supply. Poorly constructed agriculture and fishing policies have choked one of the largest inland sea (okay, lake) in the world. Indiscriminate dumping of toxic wastes into the water supply, overconsumption of groundwater that drastically affects the water table, destruction of water catchment areas, and many more, continues on merrily despite so-called stringent regulations and laws. Enforcement appears to be lackadaisical and punishments for transgressions seem to be little more than a mild slap on the wrist and this appears to be the trend the world over.

Perhaps we should start saving water and drink beer instead.


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