If you used the toilet today, you are luckier than 2.5 billion people worldwide. If you had a drink of clean water, you are more fortunate than 780,000,000 people on our planet, today.

 

March 22nd is World Water Day, and November 19th is World Toilet Day.

Take a few minutes today to think about water, please.

 

I love that video.

Water is a particular obsession of mine. Odd, I know, but crucial. This time last year, straight after Gateshead LibDem Conference, I flew over to Marseilles to attend the 6th World Water Forum, a five day conference where high-level delegates, academics, captains of industry and the occasional student who only had to pay €30 for his ticket got together to debate how on earth we would ensure that everyone on our planet has clean drinking water.

The fact is, there is enough water on this planet for us all, more than enough. But there are major issues in distribution, access and sanitation.

  • Less than 2.5% of the world’s water is drinkable, pure, fresh-water. Much of that is trapped in the North Pole, South Pole or the Himalayas. Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water is easily accessible for human usage in our rivers and lakes, the rest being trapped in ground-water reservoirs
  • Of the remainder, it is badly distributed. The Middle East has almost no drinking water in many countries, and many countries there rely on importing both real and virtual water.
  • Virtual water is the water is takes to make things, broadly. One apple, while growing, consumes 125 litres of water (deduct a bit for the whole tree etc). A cabbage consumes about 280 litres. But a single kilogram of beef will consume a massive 15,400 litres of water. This is water that we should be drinking.
  • This is where Africa’s problem lies. There is water in Africa, far more than the Middle East. But there isn’t enough to support industry. They don’t have enough for agriculture, or cattle farming. Much of what they do have is diseased.
  • Did you know that simply putting diseased water in a bottle and leaving it in the sun for long enough will make it largely drinkable? There are simple solutions available to us, if we only put our minds to it.
  • We’ve all got the stereotype in our minds of people walking long distances to find safe, drinkable water, and that is largely true. But the ramifications are vast – it’s not just that these people don’t have water, but the knock-on effects. Every hour spent fetching water in an hour not spent working, in school, or supporting a family. Women and children are disproportionately affected by this, and one of the main ways to get them into education in Africa would be to stop the necessity of them spending hours fetching water. 40 billion hours are spent just fetching something as simple as water.

This year is the International Year of Water Cooperation, so it’s a fitting year to write my dissertation. I’ll be discussing water scarcity and conflict in Central Asia, and I’m looking forward to it. This year’s slogan is “Water, Water Everywhere Only if We Share”. It was put to a public competition, that garnered over 12,000 proposals from 180 countries. This winner was a Ms Megha Kumar from India. Sharing water is key to avoiding its misuse.

 

 

I’m not going to petition you to give money. But I am going to disturb your day-to-day existence.

Half the battle over water is making it an issue. People aren’t willing to talk about toilets and sanitation because, frankly, it’s a bit gross, and it wins no votes. One of my personal heroes is the South Korean politician who helped open a Toilet Theme Park.  We have to encourage our politicians to take the issue seriously. If you have time, write to an MP, and make it an issue. Encourage politicians, whenever the issue of water is raised, to confront the issue head-on, not to shy away, and to promote sustainability and cooperation in water.

People don’t understand how we can fix that water problem: it’s viewed as this impossible challenge, but surprisingly simple solutions are available, and will start to save lives today. The main problem, I feel, is information. So please, sign up on WaterAid, Water.org, and World Toilet Day sites for updates. Spread the word.

But most importantly, save water. It’s a simple proposition, but it’s surprising how much people waste.

The top 10 tips for saving water:

1. Take shorter showers instead of a bath – use a shower timer and see if you can keep your showers to less than five minutes.

2. Fix leaking and dripping taps.

3. Water your garden early in the morning or late at night when evaporation is lowest.

4. Never use the toilet as a dustbin.

5. Use a Hippo or Save-a-Flush (cistern displacement device) to reduce the amount of water used in the loo.

6. Use a bowl when washing salad or veg then throw the water on your garden.

7. Only use your washing machine or dishwasher when you have got a full load.

8. Turn the tap off when you brush your teeth – in fact toothpaste works better when it’s dry!

9. Put a layer of mulch on the soil around your plants; it will suppress weeds, reduce evaporation and keep the soil moist.

10. Finally, drink tap water! Tap water is just as good as bottled water, it’s a lot cheaper and it better for the planet.

Lack of safe, clean, healthy drinking water is a big issue, don’t get me wrong. But working together, cooperating today and every day, we can solve it.

 

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