The Paradox of Water

“Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Time of the Ancient Mariner

Many of the great civilizations were formed around rivers and waterways. Mesopotamia, that very cradle of civilisation had two major rivers - Tigris and Euphrates - running on either side. The same holds true today; you would have to be mad to move to a house with no running water.

Well, that's exactly what I did when I moved to our small holding in Shropshire (England) ten years ago. A tiny shallow well had been the main source of water to our property since 1848. Shallow wells heavily depend on rainfall. So it is quite simple - a sustained dry period means very little or no water at the tap. It is as simple as that. No water authority to complain to and no water bowsers in sight.

The little well remained faithful until 2006 when on one sunny August day I had to inform our guests that there simply was no water in the tank. The water in the well had reached the lowest level ever and was in the process of drying up. I could not help feeling like the character Jean de Florette, desperately seeking an immediate solution to this fundamental a problem.

We managed – just. Tenko-like rationing meant that there was just enough water for the very basic needs. A large supply of bottled water (of all things) carried us through what proved to be not only a taxing, but also an enlightening period.

Being far away from any mains water with no forseeable rainfall meant we had to look elsewhere. Considering nothing was coming from the skies we decied to look underground - 50 metres underground in fact. A borehole tapping into aquifers is, for now, our salvation. I say "for now" as the supply of groundwater is also limited. Only 0.9% of the total water supply of the world is groundwater.

I must confess to a love affair with water that started when I first removed the cover to our shallow well and peered into this “blue gold” - A gift that mother nature had so selflessly brought to my door step for centuries. I would also like to think that my distant Zoroastrian heritage had long ago planted the seeds of respect for all natural gifts including water into my genetic path. Especially so given that Zoroastrians saw the role of mankind to protect the “Seven Creations” comprising of sky, water, earth, plants, animals, man and fire. Of course, the purifying role of water in for example ritual washing or ablution is well documented in most major faiths.

Moving on to the 21st century how do we set out to protect rather than just consume this gift of nature? How do we best begin to see water not as a right but a finite, precious entity?

Undoubtedly science, innovation, regulations and new management techniques all have a specific role to play in the more appropriate and efficient use of water and energy. Granted, we are extremely resilient and undoubtedly have been designed to procreate, progress and innovate. But total reliance on this approach introduces a potential flaw - our perceived technical mastery over everything including water can lead us to a false sense of security. We would do well to complement our scientific excellence with instilling a sense of consciousness, social responsibility and more importantly a genuine respect and humility towards nature.

It does not take droughts, flash floods or another Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina to see that despite the phenomenal progress of humanity, we are all subject as individuals to the most basic needs in life.
Note: This article by Dr Sepe Sehati, Co-Founder of ClickTell was originally written in April 2008, for Coolaworld an environmental organisation.

1 comment:

Sam said...

This is a great personal message. Full of dignity. I thoroughly loved reading it.