When will everybody worldwide have enough clean, safe water to drink?
Day after day, no rain falls. Days become months become years. There is no snow this winter to melt in the spring. The evening weather reveals a red warning on the map above our home. We are warned when the wind is high because a small spark ignites the dry grasses.
I do not live in India, where women carry water from filthy rivers back to their villages. Nor do I live in Africa, where tribal people hide in the trunks of giant trees to keep their water from theft. My home is not on the Eastern block where women gather water to carry back to the village where it is boiled for drinking and cooking.
I live in North Carolina, in the United States, and the lakes and rivers that serve to bring us our water for cooking, bathing, and cleaning have less than a six-month supply of water remaining. Communities are gathering what rain water falls into barrels for sharing. Faucets are being replaced with versions that conserve. We are asked to take fast showers, not use our dishwasher, and to do multiple loads of clothing at once to cut down on water waste. Gardens go unwatered. Cars are unwashed. Every day with no rain, the deficit grows higher the lakes and rivers become lower.
One of the earliest books on ecology, written in 1962 and still relevant today, is Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1962). She dedicated her book to Albert Schweitzer, who said, “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” We will not destroy the earth. This planet goes through changes naturally; but, we have caused this change, this global warming causing droughts in many places and great floods in many others. We will not destroy the earth. We will destroy humankind. Carson says, “Of all our natural resources, water has become the most precious. By far the greater part of the earth’s surface is covered by its enveloping seas, yet in the midst of this plenty, we are in want.”
In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, my father spoke to high school and college students about Futuristics and Ecology (a new term recently coined). His most important focus was overpopulation and its toll on resources. If we, as a people, had agreed then to limit ourselves to two children per family, we would not have had the population explosion that has brought about such a scarcity of natural resources, especially for the poor. My father believed that if he could reach the young, he could touch their minds and hearts with the possibility of what could happen to “their children’s children.” He did not live to see that the damage of greedy consumption has happened in his child’s lifetime. He did, however, live to cry with all of us as pictures of dying wildlife from the Exxon-Valdese oil spill were splashed across the papers and television.
The paucity of water, our most necessary resource, affects the poor first the poorest nations have the least amount of clean, accessible drinking water. When I make my coffee with bottled water, I know I am not really conserving resources. In the United States, we say, “Scientists will fix this,” as we turn off the late night news and stop by the kitchen to run that small load of dishes while we sleep. Warnings continue to go unheeded in spite of tickets with hefty fines for washing cars and watering lawns.
In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore tells us that once we used irrigation to enhance nature’s patterns. He writes, “Now we have the power to divert giant rivers according to our design instead of nature’s.” The result is that our rivers no longer reach the sea, because we have no regard for nature. In the former Soviet Union, water was diverted from two rivers to irrigate fields. The two rivers fed into the Aral Sea. On one of his trips to this area, Al Gore saw what appeared to be fishing boats stranded in the middle of a desert. What he was looking at was once the Aral Sea now that sea is essentially gone (An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore, Rodale Books, 2006).
An entire sea is already gone, and we are redirecting the Colorado River to run upstream in order to provide water for Las Vegas. It appears we have more power than we have the intelligence and foresight to control.
We cannot answer the question that is the thesis of this article, “When will everybody worldwide have enough clean, safe water to drink?” Perhaps we never will. Maybe the earth will shed itself of this cancer called, “humanity.” And we may still have time to right the wrongs that have caused such damage.
I find myself reading the words of The Dalai Lama. According to Gill Farrer-Halls, the Dalai Lama “frequently stresses the importance of universal responsibility for each person ” Enough clean, safe water to drink is a universal responsibility – the responsibility of us all (The World of the Dalai Lama, Gill Farrer-Halls, Quest Books, 1998).
I know without hope, there is nothing. We must believe that water will be plentiful for all if we are better stewards today, now. Tomorrow will be too late. The answer is global and unselfish.
Theoretical physicist Fritzjoff Capra defines the interconnectedness of all peoples and explains to us that earth is a living and moving ecosystem. It is up to each of us to change our ethics to realize that there can no longer be Me versus You or Us versus Them. For there to be enough water worldwide, we all must work together (The Web of Life by Fritzjoff Capra, Anchor Books, 1996).
If we understand the interconnectedness of rivers, oceans, and air, all moving in intricate patterns oblivious to countries, continents, and man-made borders, then someday there may be enough clean, safe water to drink, worldwide. The answer lies within each of us.