Blog Action Day 2010: Water
It’s remarkable how a shower can raise one’s mood. Just this evening I took a shower before heading out to dinner with friends. It was a warm & soothing shower, something to which I have grown unconsciously accustomed. Even growing up in Jamaica when we didn’t have a hot water heater I’d still be able to take warm showers…mostly in the afternoon though. Grandma let me in on the secret that if I just let the first bit of cold water run off I’d get the water warmed by the sun. I felt like I’d discovered gold, especially since the morning showers before school were cold & brisk. By the time I’d left Jamaica, Mommy & I lived where we could afford to have warm water whenever we wanted but even then I didn’t take it for granted since there were more than a few times when no water of any temperature came through our apartment’s pipes. At those times it was time for a bucket and wash off, and I became quite skilled at washing underwear, face, teeth & self (not necessarily in that order) using one bucket of water. And I didn’t think anything of it…it was just, for me, a requirement of life when one lived on an island in a tropical climate prone to long periods of no rainfall.
But it would seem that these long periods of no rainfall have lengthened to unthinkable periods of time. The last drought that affected Jamaica seemed to go on forever. Earlier this year I know I offended some twitter folk with what seemed like a less than compassionate response to their plight. And I didn’t mean to offend. Not at all. Not being able to have water flow from your tap is an annoying and inconvenient situation but it can be addressed. I understand that because it’s happened to me. While the drought in Jamaica was a severe one, having a drought is NOT new. Of course the NWC was at fault for not making lock offs regularly scheduled and uniform or with sufficient notice but I still cannot accept that it’s THEIR ENTIRE fault. And yes, there are those people who should have been charged or fined for wasting water; @tplayfair’s letter to the editor which was published in The Jamaica Gleaner accurately captured my sentiments on that matter.
But there’s more that’s a matter of personal responsibility that I’d like to address on Blog Action Day 2010. As citizens of an island country we have to learn to better manage our water resources and this includes conservation. Access to water is something that we seem to take for granted but we really shouldn’t. There is not an unlimited supply of water on this planet or solar system. Approximately 75-80% of the Earth’s surface may be covered with water but the sources of drinkable & potable water are few and decreasing. Somehow as we “progressed” we managed to hand over too much ownership of and control over our own personal spheres to a central authority – be that a government, county water board, or the NWC. Our access to water is one of those things that we need to take better charge of. Jamaica for all its grand accomplishments is still a young and small developing island state. This is a reality that we all need to face – yes even those Jamaicans who do not live on the Rock. Why? Because without all willing, available, and honest hands on deck our country will get no where fast. This is but one issue but it is an important one. So yes, the water lock offs that still happen, now, even with all the rains Nicole brought cannot be immediately remedied but we can still address it by developing and rediscovering habits that will help us all in the long run.
I don’t know if it is that some of parents have neglected to share with us the lessons of their upbringing or are too ashamed to admit it but catching, treating, and storing rain water is a good thing. There is no shame in it regardless of where you live. Not running the water while brushing teeth or washing the dishes is a good thing. Running the water is not a sign of affluence, it’s a sign of wastefulness and stupidity. Not using the washing machine for a small load of clothes in favour of hand washing is a good thing. Using water that was used to rinse clothes or dishes for watering plants is a good thing. Fixing that small and only mildly annoying dripping faucet is a good thing. Once I accidentally left my bathroom basin’s faucet dripping and the plug was in…I was out of the house for maybe 10 hours and when I came back the basin was filled…it’s not a big basin. The water that accumulated for enough for me to scoop some out for brushing my teeth +wash my face. And that bottled water that we’re so in love with? It’s a bad thing. The amount of plastic generated (especially in Jamaica with a small to no recycling program) is not good for landfills or garbage dump sites; as the plastic degrades it leeches toxins into the ground and eventually into the ground water, which is definitely a bad thing. Besides, who’s regulating all these water companies to ensure that it’s really from spring so-and-so or that the water is really filtered by reverse osmosis? It’s better to get a reusable (metal) water bottle and refill it from the tap (which is generally OK water), with boiled or treated water, or water from a water filter (Brita or Pur). These may seem like small things to do but small things and small habits done together can and do have a significant cumulative effect. Do not depend solely on either of the Ps or the NWC to be the only source of your water. Be proactive about how you manage your household’s water resources.
In the long term, though, Jamaica has to reconsider its water management practices…and I don’t mean automatically turning to desalination, which can be expensive and requires tremendous amounts of energy. Wait, isn’t the world already realizing that it uses too much energy and trying to find alternate sources? Hmm. How about finally, finally desilting the Mona Dam? Because that dam hasn’t been operating at full capacity for years now. I’ll assume that a similar process needs to happen for the Hermitage Dam, in addition to building new dams. I’ve heard rumblings of desilting the Mona Dam since I began high school in Jamaica. That was seventeen years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents heard similar rumblings before I was born. Jamaicans and their government need to be proactive instead of reactive, so that we don’t wait for another severe drought (or even severe flooding, which causes turbidity) to occur before addressing these water management issues. Yes the country is broke but the effects of having too undependable a water supply are great and dangerous: sanitation issues, water borne diseases, the impact on agriculture are a few. So to my mind the choice is clear: ensure that a small island has sufficient sources of water to manage its basic, daily needs or suffer through many more and increasingly worse droughts (and I think a similar choice needs to be made in favour of a reliable and diverse energy infrastructure…but that’s another blog post). Take back some of the control that you’ve handed over to some central authority.
Just last weekend I watched Babies with a friend and there was a scene with the not-yet one-year old baby from Namibia where a female family member or friend gave him a small rusted can to play with…by balancing the can atop his head. He did well and enjoyed it…but I instinctively realized that he was also practicing for the coming days when he would have to go fetch water. I’m sure that this is a scene that would be recognized by many in rural Jamaica. Still in 2010. Dang it when I was younger and watching The Jetsons I for sure didn’t expect there to be places in the world where access to water was a life or death issue! But this is 2010 – an era of unprecedented wealth but abject poverty and the gap between the two extremes is widening. And yet I still believe that we each still have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to take better ownership and care of our water resources.
In addition to conserving water we also have to treat our bodies of water much better than we currently do. I’ve written about the world’s seventh largest natural harbour aka Kingston Harbour before in Pellucid. I and others have mentioned the damage being done to the Palisadoes Spit. The Kingston Harbour, Hope River, and the Rio Cobre are but a few of Jamaica’s water resources that need dire attention and better care. It’s all connected. Our world is one large ecosystem, a cycle where each action has a reaction. The relatively small ecosystem that is Jamaica is not immune to this interdependent cycle. Only recently some of Jamaica’s fishermen offered to become sea garbage men because they see the damage that all the pollution of our waters is having on their livelihood (note that much of this pollution comes from plastic water bottles and untreated sewage flowing into the Caribbean sea). So cleaning our neighbourhood gullies and keeping them clean and clear is a good thing. Maintaining our swamps and marshland is a good thing. Not only do they help us out when there are heavy rains but they are nature’s natural drainage system that filters out what toxins and pollution it can before they can get to the sea. This is something I learned about in second form Geography class and in CXC Biology! It’s not hidden knowledge (paging NEPA!). Is it that we’re not going to pay attention as well until we can no longer zip off to Hellshire for fried fish because there’s a dangerous decrease in the availability of fish? O wait, we’ll just import the fish! Right. Too bad that other countries’ fishermen are already having problems with their fish supplies, and with the levels of heavy metals in the fish they’re able to harvest.
October 15, 2010 is Blog Action Day to focus the attention of thousands of blogs on the issue of Water. But tomorrow, on Sunday, next week, November 20, 2010 and on and on are ALL days on which we need to focus our attention on our water habits. Conserve (check out some conservation tips here and here). Store what you can safely. Don’t pollute. Be responsible.