When was the last time you truly appreciated water? Do you have a favourite stream, lake, or ocean shore? Do you remember what it looks, sounds, and feels like as you are standing there watching the water move? Its shape, power, and persistence. Its many forms. Rain, snow, glacial sheets, wetlands, frost, fog, dew. Do you realize it is the lifeline of our planet? When was the last time you felt gratitude for water?
If you live in a developed country with water treatment plants, irrigation systems, etc., you may not experience water gratitude every day because we sometimes take for granted what runs so freely from our taps. Thirsty? Grab a glass of water and head over to the tap. Not near a tap? Go to any store and buy a bottle of water. Not near a store? Chances are that fresh water sources are near enough to you. There is little effort required for us to obtain fresh, clean, drinkable water. But is that the same if we look at the global scale? No. Hard no. Here is some visual perspective.
Yesterday was World Water Day, did you know? The future of access to clean water looks quite dire, so I spent some time with my class discussing water conservation, and what obtaining fresh water looks and feels like in countries around the world. We read a book called “Water Princess“, which tells the true story of a young girl in Africa and her daily task of gathering water from the nearest well; the nearest well being a four or five hour walk away. We discussed what this would mean for her life, and how this compares to that of my students’ lives. What time does she leave with her mother to get water? Early morning. When does she return? Evening. Does she have time to go to school? Does she have time to be a child? What do they use the water for? Is any drop wasted? How often must they go to get the water?
We do not always realize how water impacts people and animals around the world. Yes, the Earth is covered in water. But only a fraction of that water is safe for us to drink. But what is happening to our fresh water sources?
What I see as the major problems regarding fresh water, and I am in no way an expert, just an observant environmental educator, is pollution, waste, and that water is not treated as a human right, but rather a commodity.
- Pollution: oil spills, tailings ponds, microplastics, sewage both from human sources, as well as livestock lots, etc., illegal dumping of many toxic materials, pipelines cutting through fresh water sources, and the list goes on.
- Waste: we do not pay for the amount we use. The waste I see/read of most: watering lawns for hours on end, pressure washing driveways, vehicles, etc., not fixing leaky taps or replacing old, leaky pipes, as well as the use of water in factories (i.e. thousands of gallons of fresh water are used in the production of items such as paper towels and tissues).
- Commodity: corporations buy out fresh water springs all over the world, often in poor villages that depend on the water to drink. They then claim rights to that spring and charge the villagers an impossible rate to buy the water back; since this is not achievable, they must find other sources far away, or drink unsafe water. When you buy bottled water, you support these companies, and you tell them it is okay to prevent impoverished people from access to clean water. Think of Nestle, Coca Cola, Veolia, Suez, and other companies that will continue pumping “their” spring no matter what, whether drought or thirst-stricken villages, if there is $ to be made, they will make it.
So what can we do? First, you can make a choice. You can choose to look the other way, or you can choose to act. You may feel one person cannot do much, but your choice will impact those of others. Be water aware, and remind yourself that not everyone in the world has the same easy water access as you. Educate yourself on water conservation, and what you can do with your power as a consumer. Here is a short list of things you can do daily on my post: ZW Water.
And now some pictures of lovely water: