Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Water Wars

One of the most terrifying future dystopian thought experiments for me is a world with too little water. My country is a water-scarce country but we still have enough most of the time, in most places, most years. Some years are bad. 2009 was a particularly bad year in the area where I grew up. Farmers were losing stock, dam levels were critical, water restrictions were wide-spread. Some areas were harder hit than others. In some places water had to be brought in by truck every day. Each family or household got an allowance of water every day. Enough for cooking and some cleaning but not enough to wash clothes regularly or run flush toilets as usual. Water infrastructure was affected. Dams are made to hold water. When there is no water, they can be damaged.

So water is a concern in South Africa. But for those who have running water (  % of the population), water is something you take for granted. Fresh, clean, drinkable water flows out of the taps 24 hours a day. It is easy to take for granted. I went to live in Asia for a year and was a little taken aback to be told that the tap-water wasn't really safe, so I should buy drinking water. Buy water? What a crazy idea. I had grown up taking water for granted - it was always just there.

It is not there for many people in Africa and even in South Africa. More needs to be done. Clean water piped into every house might be an unattainable dream, but there are ways to ensure a greater number of people have access to clean water. It's a public health priority, because unclean water has a serious impact, especially for young children and people whose immune systems are compromised. It is a time issue, keeping children out of school and women out of productive or paying work. It is a basic need that is not being met. If had millions to spend, at least some of it would go towards meeting that need and preventing that horrible, nightmare future scenario of peoples and nations going to war over water.

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