Our bodies, like our planet, are made up mostly of water. We are able to live where we live because of the water this planet provides. Historically, we have followed water, seeking it out to build our farms and cities and trade around. The water that sustains us flows over and under the earth, moves between land and sea and sky, rises up as fogs and mist and clouds and spray, evaporates from the land and sea and falls to earth again gently or in torrents. It knows no boundaries, has no nationality, and carries with it whatever falls into it, or is picked up by it as it flows or falls.
For much of my life I’ve been aware of the ebbs and flows of water, of the cycles of droughts and floods that are part of life in many places. In Jamaica I remember my family listening to reports of the state of the reservoirs in drought years, hoping for rain before the water went down too far, and became dirty and scarce. Later, my father, working at the time in South East Asia, would talk passionately about the need for clean drinking water and the difference it would make to the lives and health of many of the people there. Back in Jamaica, years later, boiling the water that flowed from the taps for eight hours each day to make sure it was safe to drink was part of the morning routine in my parents’ house.
I’ve seen that access to water is a struggle for many – as a child growing up in Jamaica I used to see people gathered around standpipes as we drove through country villages, and women and girls carrying heavy containers of water home to cook and wash with. Other times we would pass women beating clothes on the rocks of a river, or groups of adults being baptised in the same stream. I lived in a house where water flowed from taps and through toilets, but I knew that others were not so lucky.
Now I live in a province where farming and fishing are still very important, and where the awareness of weather and water are part of the fabric of life. It is a province with many lakes and rivers, where water flows abundantly. Here, the problem with water is us, how we use it, and the waste and chemicals that flow into that water because of the things we do. Or maybe the problem is that we assume that water, which gives us life, has a magical life of its own that protects it from the things we do.
Most of us know the story of Button Soup, or some very similar tale. In it, a traveler convinces the people in a village to fill the pot of boiling water in which his stone button lies with all kinds of good food. In the end, between them all, they make a wonderful soup which they share with each other, rejoicing in their good fortune.
It is a wonderful story, but if the villagers had thrown into their pot the kinds of things we are putting into our water today, they would have ended up with a chemical soup that left them ill, weak and dying. Even if they had had enough water to make soup, they would have found that water poisoned.
There are two kinds of water scarcity. An absolute, physical absence of water, which we cannot change except by bringing water in from other places. And a scarcity of clean water – sometimes because floods overwhelm us and leave us with a mess of debris and waste that poison the water, at other times because we ourselves do not think about what we are putting into it. Like the villagers who had to be shown that they were the ones who, together, had made that wonderful soup, we have difficulty understanding that we, together, can make the water we depend on nourishing – or dangerous.
But, like the villagers, we have the ability to change the things we do, so that we can live better. Like them, we can work together to make our lives and our water much healthier, much better, much more nourishing. Like them, we can find ways to share.
If we do not treat our water as lovingly as those villagers made their stone button soup, we risk losing the clean water we need to sustain life – our own lives and the lives of the plants and creatures we depend on. And if we do not find good ways to share clean water, then those who need it will either die or find their own way to it.
Clean water equals life; let’s work toward clean, life-sustaining water for all. However and wherever we can.
Some of the things we can do:
- keep garbage out of our waterways
- work to prevent them from becoming polluted with chemical, human and farm waste, including taking care of how we dispose of our own waste
- take care to avoid using poisons that spread into them
- use our water wisely and not too wastefully
- learn about the ebbs and flows of our local waterways, so that we do not build or develop where floods are likely to destroy our work, or our work is likely to destroy the water and the life that depends on it – which includes our own.
Today is Blog Action Day. I learned about it from Cory Huff of Abundant Artist, who invited the Abundant Artist community to write about the theme this year – water (read what he proposed by clicking here). Read what other people have written about water by clicking here.