Water: The ultimate luxuryBy eptak | March 8th, 2009 | Category: Blog, Featured story, Get Involved, Society |
By Sound News reporter Emilia Ptak
Rainy Seattle, nestled between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, enjoys an abundance of the wet stuff. Being surrounded by water and having it come down on us throughout the year is misleading in thinking that general availability and accessibility is the norm. The collective mindset reflects a standard, a high standard because water is not a concern.
I recently met with Maneezeh Lotia to discuss the issue of water scarcity. Maneezeh is a University of Washington freshman from Karachi, Pakistan. When I ask her to comment on the fact that Karachi (Pakistan’s largest city with a population over 12 million and six times the size of Seattle), has a reliable source for only 4 hours a day, she corrects me and says that they have limited access a few times a week. Right when you think the situation is bad, it gets worse.
“Here, water isn’t part of your daily conversation. In Pakistan it is”, she states. Watching children steal water from tankers when the truck is stopped at a light or seeing people sneak into other people’s gardens to take water from the faucet are part of her daily observances.
While rain in Pakistan is debilitating, she loves the rain in Seattle. When it rains there all plans for the day or even that week are delayed. Since there is no drainage system water remains standing, compromising the public’s health and mobility. Contamination of existing water systems and increased likelihood of water-borne diseases are common threats. Once school was delayed for a month because the roads remained flooded for so long.
Maneezeh is currently looking to move into a house this spring quarter and tells me how excited she was when she noticed that the place has a bathtub. “I have taken maybe 3 bubble baths in my life.”
Maneezeh considers herself one of the lucky. She is part of 1% of the Pakistani population that can afford to buy water. Applying that fact to the United States means that only 3 million people, which is about the population of the Seattle metropolitan area, could afford water nationwide.
“Water is the ultimate luxury.” Maneezeh reflects. In Pakistan water is sacred and honored. Efficiency of water use is not just good stewardship, but a necessity.
In Seattle, it is difficult to foster the same appreciation. We aren’t confronted with the daily limitations that Maneezeh has grown up with. A habit recently observed by one of her friends was how many times she saves a working document while she is on the computer. She is in the habit of constantly saving because in Pakistan the electricity can go out at any time without any warning. Electricity is directly linked to the water system because it is generated by hydropower. Unreliability is a fact of life.
Many don’t realize that the relative reliability of our water system is a luxury for many around the globe. Water is a scarce resource, so scarce that more than 20% of the global population lacks access to safe water for drinking, personal hygiene and domestic use, according to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).
When putting the issue of water scarcity into a global perspective, common practices taken for granted begin to be questioned in terms of their validity. An expanded awareness leads one to examine their way of life. Washing cars and having green lawns is no longer accepted as something that people just do, but scrutinized and considered excessive practices from an ethical and environmental perspective.
Even here, water scarcity is a major dilemma Washington State is grappling with. As water resources dwindle, demand is on the rise. Accommodating the needs for a rapidly growing population, other species -such as protecting fish habitat-, agriculture and recreation uses poses difficulty for allocation measures. The situation is even direr taking into consideration that about one-third of Washington’s waters are too polluted to meet state water quality standards, according to the WA State Department of Ecology.
Luckily, we have a chance to correct our mistakes. The solution is society responsibility. Recognizing that more than 60% of water pollution comes from cars leaking oil, fertilizers and pesticides from farms and gardens, failing septic tanks, pet waste and fuel spills from recreational boaters (WA State Dept. of Ecology), one realizes that these underlying causes aren’t the result of failed government policies, but are the direct result of citizen action. One person’s actions are magnified when accounted for as one of many adding to the total communal impact. Taking care of waterways is necessary to protect our health and prosperity, and to preserve our ecological heritage. Watersheds are home. The individual incentive to practice stewardship is simple: we take care of the natural environment to take care of ourselves.