wasteful humanity may die of thirst

Overheated from running in the fields the black Labrador lapped thirstily from the pond. Her ecstasy made me recall the rivers of my youth —…

Overheated from running in the fields the black Labrador lapped thirstily from the pond.

Her ecstasy made me recall the rivers of my youth — how I embraced them.

There was the creek behind Diamond Head.

After a hot day crossing a glacier almost 40 years ago, I stuck my head into blue water so cold my face went numb immediately, and a trout darted out from behind a rock, scaring both of us.

I drank quickly and hurt my stomach. It was good and sweet and too cold, and then I drank again, hurting myself even more. Finally, I slowed down, in pain, but still delighted.

There was a creek at Cathedral, high in the alpine meadows, and a red cedar water river in the Charlottes when I was logging in’72. The water was a bright red yet delicious.

One of my favourite waters was Vancouver tap water (no more) when I was a child. I didn’t drink anything else in those days, apart from the few occasions I got lucky with some juice or Kool-Aid — so sugary it should have been illegal. I didn’t drink coffee until I turned 20.

Recently, I heard a bone doctor discuss the accelerating number of hip and knee operations.

While bad knees undoubtedly began in the Stone Age, he suggested the condition has exploded during the last half century, and that the most likely culprit was our rejection of water.

Water lubricates the joints and, over the years, we’ve massively switched from drinking water to caffeinated products which also act as diuretics. It was an interesting argument, one I hadn’t heard before.

Good water keeps all of us alive. The human body is 95 per cent water.

Contaminated water is the source of three quarters of the diseases that strike us. The list is terrifying: meningitis, polio, bacillary dysentery, hepatitis, cholera, typhoid, diarrhea.

Tainted water breeds an exotic crew of parasites: tapeworms, roundworms, deadly mosquitoes, and tissue nematodes, and these can give us guinea worm disease, filariasis paragonimiasis, clonorchiasis, schistosomiasis, malaria, giardia, yellow fever, dengue fever.

It’s a hellish assortment of ways to die.

More than five million people perish of water-related diseases each year, 10 times those killed in wars.

A further 2.3 billion are infected and survive.

A child dies somewhere in the world every three seconds from one of these diseases, and more children have died during the last 10 years from water-related diseases than in all the wars since the Second World War.

Dirty water can be a toxic substance indeed.

Canada has the most fresh water in the world, and maybe that’s why we treat it as a dump. Many Canadian cities, including Ottawa, continue pouring untreated sewage into our waterways.

More than 70 First Nations communities in Canada have contaminated, undrinkable water.

Water is just not what we drink and bathe in, it’s essential for our food production. Industrial-style agriculture is the greediest water abuser.

The green revolution certainly has produced more food, but with toxic results.

Agricultural fertilizers and chemicals are not only polluting our rivers and oceans, they are destroying the land.

I always tell everyone when they see the war in Iraq pictured on a television to note the ruined landscape. That’s what the human species did to the Garden of Eden.

Misguided irrigation practices salinized that land so badly some fields will be poisoned for another 30,000 years.

In North America, 25 per cent of our agricultural soil is beginning to show the effects of salinization.

This is one of the reasons why the US is desperate to buy our water. They are the largest users in the world, and their water is running out.

One of the most disturbing symbols of American gluttony is the mighty Colorado River, now dry in the summer months where it once ran wild and deep through Los Angeles.

NAFTA refers to water as a commodity, and if we begin selling it to the US, we will forever lose control of its distribution.

Like our natural gas.

We could easily have a Canadian price for natural gas and oil/gasoline far lower than what we now pay, but NAFTA forces us to pay the same price as the Americans, and we cannot limit their usage in order to preserve the oil and gas for our future.

Now they’ve set their sights on our water.

O the waters of my youth. There was hardly a place that we dared not drink from, or swim in.

During this last decade, British Columbia health authorities have declared all surface water potentially contaminated, warning it shouldn’t be drunk without boiling or chemical treatment. This has occurred in 40 years.

As with many environmental problems, we are literally sticking our heads in the sand.

Rather than protecting our water and rebuilding ruined water systems, we are merely drinking more bottled water, although recent studies have shown 25 per cent of bottled water brands tested showed microbiological and/or chemical contamination.

Never mind the chemicals in the plastic bottles themselves, or their addition to land fills.

Once in China, I bought some water on a night train. Ravenously thirsty I chugged half the bottle in the dim light before I realized it was full of slime. In Third World countries water bottles are often refilled with contaminated water and resold. I was sick for a day afterwards.

And we pay more for water than many soft drinks.

Today is world water day, and events are planned all around the world to celebrate water and warn about the dangers it faces.

Take a sip of some nice clean water and savour it. More than four billion people are not so lucky.

Einstein once said he didn’t know “with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” And I suspect the fight will begin over water.

If you’re interested in learning more, the acclaimed film Thirst, by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, is being shown at the Alpine Bakery on Thursday. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.