Water water everywhere…

So goes the little Baby Einstein story in the waterproof book we received when Benjamin was a baby.

Except it’s no longer true. Water being everywhere, that is.

I happen to come across a show about this on TVO last night, that talks about this very topic. And a part of the show stuck to my mind throughout the night. In fact, I had trouble falling asleep, and staying asleep, because of this imagine it created in my head.

The show will repeat again on February 12, 2008. I doubt I’ll have time to watch it again, particularly the parts I missed yesterday (the beginning and the end). What with all the issues we’ve been having over the past couple of days (toddler pooping, painting, infant sick, deep freeze, living LIFE).

But I digress. The gist of the show was about whether water is a human right or a commodity that can be bought and sold. We all know what it should be, but the reality is that many people in various parts of our mostly water-covered planet don’t have access to safe water at all. Which brings me back to the image in my head that left me sleepless.

The show took us to Bolivia. It followed a little family who lived in a breathtakingly beautiful mountain village. The daily view they have is even an amateur photographer’s dream. But the lifestyle the little family is living is far from beautiful.

The little house where our Bolivian family dwelled is little more than a shack. The camera focused in on a broken doll lying on a dirt floor. There were two beds covered in colourful blankets, indicating a higher standard of poverty than what one might imagine. The beds were filled with the entire family: parents, grandparents, children. (Makes one think about this whole idea that co-sleeping is often termed as unsafe here in the West’s middle class, but that’s another day’s post.)

Early in the morning the family rises, collects containers, and walks a fair distance toward a well where they will obtain their daily requirement of water. I don’t recall how far they had to walk, but remember a narrow path along a mountain ridge, downhill. I also remember the narrator speaking of the well not always having enough water, or any water at all, for this and other families whose livelihood depends on it. And, that the water wasn’t reliably clean. In fact, the head of the family spoke about two of his children dying what he thought was due to contaminated water from the well.

The father or grandfather was interviewed for this story. He and the about 10 year old girl Vanessa were the “stars” of the Bolivian part of the story (the show went to India, and other places as well). They explained solemnly about how they don’t have enough water, and how they have to ration it when they do manage to bring water back home.

Vanessa at one point cried when she told her very heartfelt perspective about this situation she find herself in. Other children won’t play with her because she has no water in her home. Other children call her a filthy pig because even if she has water available to wash herself with, there isn’t enough water to wash the clothes. Or vice versa.

Vanessa and her father (grandfather?) walk along the path one day and sit down on a rock. The view is breathtaking. There is a huge mountain covered in ice and snow in the distance.

The man explains to the girl that all this snow and ice will melt into water, but it won’t be made available to her when she grows up.

No, the Americans will come and buy it for their Coca Cola factories.

That is what he says.

And that is the sad reality. A Coca Cola factory in fact exists next to the family’s well. They visit it sometimes, when their well has run dry, to look at all the water splashing about in the humongous reservoirs, over the chainlinked fence. This water that is pumped from the mountain, their mountain, is a commodity now. It has been bought for money.

And the little family living next door to the factory can’t keep their 10 year old girl clean enough so she can play with her friends.

We North Americans are probably more wasteful with water than anyone else. Even in the days of ecological and environmental awareness, not to mention the high price of water and electricity, the abundant use of water in our households is nothing less than luxurious. Everytime I turn on my High Efficiency washing machine during prime time electricity use I feel guilty. On the days I shower twice, say after a day of painting in the basement, I feel guilty. Visiting Las Vegas years ago still makes me feel bad. I mean, they import water into the desert for our amusement! Now I hear that the middle class likes the dry air of Arizona, so golf courses are springing up left, right and centre there too. And golf courses require immense amounts of water.

I commend shows like this to remind us of our responsibilities to our planet. And to teach our children that water, even though it comes out of the tap, should not be treated disrespectfully.

Water, safe water, should be available to every single human being. It is, after all a necessity for life.