Recently, my family woke up to discover that one of the things we always take for granted was no longer available. When we turned the taps on, no more than the merest dribble of water dripped out.
I can’t remember the last time we’ve unexpectedly had to be without drinking water. Suddenly, all those things we do in the mornings were a lot harder. We couldn’t make a cup of tea or brush our teeth, let alone take a shower or flush the toilet. So my younger brother was sent next door with an empty bucket and a hopeful expression.
Of course, he came back minus the hopeful expression, because it wasn’t just our house- the entire street had no water. And I won’t bore you with the long story of how we discovered the workmen fixing a burst pipe at the end of the road, and how everybody from the surrounding streets came along with buckets and bottles to a single stand pipe (my dad, ever innovative, took along a huge water butt in a wheelie bin, and there was a brief kerfuffle when a little boy dropped a toy in it).
But the fact is, for the first time ever we had to think about where our water was coming from and how to get hold of it. Suddenly, we noticed how many everyday activities we need water for. Normally, as we live in a privileged society, it’s no biggie- on goes the tap, out comes the water. We know it’s clean, pure enough to drink, we can even change the temperature of it with the twist of a tap.
I’d say that it was two hundred metres, probably less, to get to the stand pipe from our house. It felt like pretty hard work, lugging bottles of water back and forth and having to queue to get them filled at all, although I had fun just because of the novelty. I wouldn’t want to do it more often.
I can hardly imagine, though, what it must be like to live in a country where you have to walk for hours every day to get hold of water. My short journey of a few hundred metres would be multiplied at least tenfold, my bottles would be great heavy buckets, and my safe street could be a dangerous, criminal area. There are young girls my age and much younger who have to do this every day. And there are places where the land is drying out and the paths to water are growing even longer, because water is being misused. We use too much, big companies use to much, everybody uses too much except in the places where they desperately need it.
As my dad used to tell me (to my five-year-old disgust), water goes round and round, so the stuff you drink was probably once dinosaur spit. Water does go round and round, but right now it’s going round and round in the wrong places. We take water for granted and we waste it. We wear clothes and buy products with hundreds of litres of water needed for production. Elsewhere, there’s none to go round.
So I think we should all take a moment to step back and remember that water is a precious resource. We don’t need to leave the tap running when we soap our hands or brush our teeth, and we don’t need to flush tissues down the toilet. It’s worth Googling how much water is needed to make a t-shirt or to grow a kilo of tomatoes- hint: a lot.
Wake up and smell the water. Don’t take it for granted. (And yes, we got the little boy’s toy back out).
~ this whole wide world