Will water be the next compelling commodity? It’s one of the most fundamentally important things in life, yet the connections between water and ‘sustainability’ (economic, political or even simply physical) are rarely at the front of our minds. Perhaps 2007 will be the year when we begin to think more aquatically. But first, the political will to deliver must be helped to be there.
My conscience has been jolted.
For several months I’ve had a WaterAid leaflet on my desk, reminding me, horrifically, that a child somewhere in the world dies every 15 seconds from ghastly illnesses connected with contaminated water. And alongside this leaflet has lain an article by John Vidal of the Guardian, written on 17 August ’06, reporting on assessments by forecasters from some of the world’s leading corporate users of fresh water – which will, they predict, be the source of widespread conflict by 2015.
Neither of these publications makes easy reading.
Two personal tales to tell
This week my sister, a doctor, told me about a recent visit to India, when she had seen for herself the incredibly pressing need for clean water – both to drink, and to improve overall hygiene in some very challenging locations, where people are trying as hard
as they possibly can to make decent lives for themselves and their families.
Then, yesterday, I heard the response from a colleague to the question: ‘What has been your greatest personal achievement?’
Without hesitation he replied it was installing a clean water supply in a distant part of Africa where, until the tap of his engineering water-supply project was ceremonially turned on, and his glass filled crystal-clear with this precious commodity, there had never before been drinkable running water….. Well, as personal achievements go, that has to be pretty good.
The Great Stench
And I have also just read Larry Elliott’s piece in the Guardian of 15 January ’07, in which he refers to London’s Great Stench of 1858 – the year Thames effluent so got up
the noses of Parliamentarians that public health measures finally came into their own. Elliott then reminds us, as does my WaterAid leaflet, that poor sanitation still kills millions every year.
Perhaps we begin to see an emerging pattern here. Politicians can make a real difference, but they need a seriously heavy public nudge to feel they are politically safe to do so.
Action as well as words
Firstly, to avoid huge conflicts in the fairly near future, we need to think right now about conserving water and about climate change and its affects on water. David Milliband is obviously our man there, as Secretary of State for Defra; and the evidence is that he and his colleagues are working very hard on this.
Secondly, as Larry Elliott this week makes clear, water is simply
not at the top of the aid agenda – but Chancellor Gordon Brown, a politician who really does try to make things better in the developing world , has said he would welcome more public pressure to do just that.
So let’s see if we can move things on. We can all talk about climate change, and ‘save’ water where we can in our own lives; but the facts as they stand for many people in parts of the developing world are too horrible for most of us even to contemplate. The future, however, could be so much better.
WaterAid works in 17 countries (Bangladesh, Burkina, Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Uganda and Zambia) providing water, sanitation and
hygiene education to some of the world’s poorest people. …..
Taking water to people who need it
If you can give a donation – however large or small (even £2 really helps) – to WaterAid, please click here.
And if you would like to expand on why the Chancellor and others should be supported 100% in telling us all how very important access for people everywhere to clean water is, the Comments box below is yours to write in.
All of us together can make it possible for our leaders to do what must be done to deliver clean water for everyone. Thank you!
See also: World Water Day (22 March 2007)