The privilege of water

I have been feeling rather grumpy lately… about two weeks ago our electric shower died and I was forced to use the bath instead. I found a plumber and he quoted for a new shower and sorting out the long-failed element on our back-up immersion heater (the main one was fine). He arrived eight days later and fitted the shower, but couldn’t do the element as he’d mislaid some particular sort of wrench he needed. Unfortunately, by the time he discovered his loss, he’d drained the water tank. So, rather than waste water he left it empty, promising to come back in a few days to finish the job. This meant I could use the shower, but had to boil the kettle to do the washing up… and I couldn’t have a bath (not that I wanted one after so many in the previous 10 days).

He was as good as his word and turned up today to replace the element. Everything is sorted out now and from tomorrow (our water heats over night) I will have my choice of shower or bath and I will be able to wash dishes/the floor/the car/the greenhouse to my heart’s content. Even better, the cost was remarkably low.

Water on tap

Water on tap

A great result, but one that has got me thinking. Here in the UK we take our good fortune for granted. We expect to have hot water… from multiple sources… and in general we get it. We expect to be able to turn on a tap and be provided with as much treated water as we desire. We take it for granted to such an extent that most of us use this treated water (produced at the cost of energy and resources) to dilute our waste. And then we send it down the drain with no further thought of what will happen to it, namely more costly treatment to make it safe to discharge into the environment.

In many other countries, people are not so lucky. Here are some distressing figures:

  • 748 million people in the world don’t have access to safe water. This is roughly one in ten of the world’s population
  • 2.5 billion people don’t have access to adequate sanitation, one in three of the world’s population
  • Over 500,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. That’s over 1,400 children a day (statistics from Water Aid UK)

I was most concerned, therefore, to read recent reports on the web saying that the CEO of Nestlé  did not consider water to be a basic human right. It’s hard to work out the exact truth behind this story, but in 2005 Peter Brabeck-Letmathe the CEO of Nestlé at the time stated that NGOs who declare that water is a human right are taking an extreme view (you can see him say this on this video, from about 2 minutes 25 seconds – it’s in German, so I’m relying on the accuracy of the subtitles). Of course his remarks have been addressed by Nestlé, who now state on their web site that ‘He is, and always has been, arguing for more efficient water management by individuals, industry, agriculture and governments.’ Whatever Mr Brabeck-Letmathe  meant, the whole thing highlights the conflict between the rights of individuals and the demands that large corporations (whose main function is to make profits for their shareholders) place on scarce resources.

So, however much water falls on me from the sky here in west Wales and however much I might moan about one of my sources of water failing, I will try to remember that other people do not have access to clean water, let alone hot water. With this in mind, and since the plumber cost less than we expected, I have just made a donation to Water Aid… perhaps you might consider doing so too?




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