Abuja, Nigeria: The thoughts and questions raised here are a bit unorthodox and I take full responsibility for them.
First, some statistics:
- 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water/ocean.
- The human body is made up of 65% water.
- Worldwide, 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source.
- 35% of the world’s population lack access to proper sanitation, which equates to about 2.5 billion people
- 1000 gallons of desalinated water cost is US$3-$4.
- 36% of the world’s population is projected to own smartphones in 2018.
- An average smartphone costs US$363.
A few days ago, after a late meeting, I took a cab home. It was a cloudy night and threatening rain. I remarked to the driver that I hope it doesn’t rain until late in the night so I could get a good night’s sleep. He chuckled and said that he hoped that it rained so people would be desperate for his services and he could raise his fares and make a killing for the night. I smiled at the irony. A more interesting conversation ensued.
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Here’s how it went (how it actually went, so I subsequently translate in brackets):
DRIVER: “This rain way you dhe plan to use sleep, you know say e get people way dhe pray make e fall make them fit use am drink come baff”.
(This rain that you are planning to sleep with, do you know that there are people praying it rains so they can drink and then bathe)?
I perked up and he continued.
DRIVER: “For South Africa, they no get water again, they say make dem no dhe bathe.
(In South Africa, they don’t have water anymore and they have been told not to bathe.)
ME: It’s true.
This seemed to encourage him and he continued once again.
DRIVER: Dat one concern them sha. How dem go say water no dhe? Abi ocean don dry?
(That concerns them though. How can they say there is no water? Has the ocean dried up?)
ME: But dem no fit drink ocean water na, or even use am baff.
(But you can’t drink ocean water or even use it to bathe.)
DRIVER: I sabi. But dem go refine am na. Dem no dhe refine oil? Why dem no go refine water make everybody drink, use baff.
(I know. But they will refine it. Don’t they refine oil? Why won’t they refine water so everyone can drink and bathe?)
DRIVER: That one na make government and all dis big big man come dhe sell bottle water give everybody na.
(It is only so the government and the rich can now start selling bottled water to them.)
I smiled in response. For the rest of the of the way, I kept quiet and contemplated what I had just heard. The more I thought about it, the more reason I saw in what he had said.
This is 2018 and mankind has progressed in science and technology more than ever before. It’s been almost fifty years since we put a man on the moon. We have put satellites in space, machines can now think, cars drive themselves, and we are slowly colonizing the red planet. How then have we not been able to provide water to every part of the earth?
As we celebrate World Oceans Day, it is necessary to appreciate the importance of the oceans. The need to protect our oceans cannot be over-emphasized. We need the oceans not just for trade or the amazing marine life it harbours, but for something even more pressing: the oceans might just be the solution to the perennial water problem.
Water is literally all around us, yet there is no clean water to drink, no water to use, for so many. If we can refine oil, then how is it that we cannot “refine” water? In my country, for instance, pipelines carry oil from the oil-rich south to the northern parts of the country for refining. This is a distance of over 550 miles (885 kilometres), has been so for over fifty years and was achieved without the degree of stress you might think. There are no oil leakages and the management of waste all through the process is maximum. This makes me feel that it can be achieved with water, across the globe.
Unless of course, we don’t want to. And why would we not want to? An answer might be because it will not be as financially beneficial to the governments and big corporations as perhaps oil, driverless cars or the internet. These other services can be charged for multiple times but who will pay for water? How long will they keep paying for it? Also, not to forget that perhaps more money will be made from selling vaccines and drugs to cure the diseases caused by lack of access to good water and sanitation than would be made from providing water itself.
This is a saddening thought; that perhaps profit is put ahead of human welfare. If this is the case, I don’t place much faith in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is because accomplishing the Goals basically requires that people, governments and institutions look beyond profit. Otherwise, what would be the point?
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