In search of water

By Isaac Kalua
When is the last time that you drank water?
That cold water that hit your dry lips and left a trail of refreshment in your throat, is a tiny percentage of the 35 million cubic kilometers of freshwater that is in the world. Before it reached your glass, it had been somewhere in the annals of nature or in the lofty skies above.

What you drank constitutes 8 percent of the total freshwater volume that goes to domestic use. Nearly thrice this number goes to industry while 70 percent goes to irrigation.

 As has been noted in the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, ‘freshwater and marine ecosystems provide various services, including provisioning (food, water, fibre, fuel), regulating (climate, hydrological, purification), cultural (spiritual, recreational), and supporting (sediment transport, nutrient cycling).’ This is simply a long way of saying that there can be no life on earth without water, yet we often treat this priceless liquid as a valueless commodity.

 We as a people, must urgently and decisively make transition from valueless to priceless perception and utilization of water. Our lifestyles and policies must reflect the fact that water is by far the most precious liquid in the world, not oil.

Pause here and think about this for a while – what if you didn’t know the next time that you will be able to drink water? What if there was a very real risk that your last drink of water was potentially your last ever drink of water? This is not alarmist talk but just plain reality. By 2015, more than 600 million people will still be lacking access to clean drinking water. Think about it – by 600 million people will still be going through their days not knowing where and when they will be able to quench their thirsts with clean drinking water.

Faced by these bleak water prospects, it’s a good thing that 2013 is actually the international year of water cooperation. Throughout the year, water cooperation and conservation will be stepped up drastically. In this regard, the world Water Day on March 23rd is even more important. This day is to freshwater what samba is to Brazil – a day for celebrating and feting freshwater. It was recommended at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio, Brazil in 1992.

This year, as we celebrate the World Water Day, I would like to turn your focus on the slippery nature of water. One minute it’s there, the next minute it’s gone. What a heartbreaking irony that those precious people in arid and semi-arid places wait for water for months and sometimes when it finally comes down from the skies, resplendent with a cool, mighty flow, they turn on their heels and flee! We need to ensure that flood water serves a constructive, instead of a destructive purpose. How can water quench people’s thirst, wash their bodies, nourish their children, flourish their crops, if they allow it to slip right through their fingers! And are there any policies in place to address this irony?

Talking about policies, I need to remind you of what Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘a policy is a temporary creed liable to be changed, but while it holds good it has got to be pursued with apostolic zeal.’ Apostolic zeal. This is the missing ingredient that policy makers and people need to apply in freshwater conservation. Apostolic zeal in formulating, enacting and implementing all water policies.

Far away from policy-making board rooms to dryland Africa, young Chebet runs for nearly seven kilometers every day in search of water. She is unaware of the aquifers that traverse the deeps beneath her scampering feet. These crystal clear aquifers flow nearly as fast as she is running. But she cannot access them. Chebet is four sixteen and in her final year of primary school. Her brown eyes have a depth that lends her oval face wisdom beyond her years. She is a brilliant young African woman who should be running in an Olympics marathon and not in search of basic drinking water.