Thursday, October 21, 2010


The "right" to clean water - Blog Action Day 2010

As part of's Blog Action Day, which for 2010 addresses the subject of clean water, here are my thoughts:



It's an unconditional human need, but it's not an unconditional human right. Not since the days of small populations and nomadic tribes were humans free to wander up to any water source and partake of its clean, clear flow. The earth provided, and all were able to use it.

As populations grew and settlements expanded, more and more demands were made on the streams, rivulets, creeks, and rivers. People always built near water for easy access to this life-sustaining substance. They learned to use it for irrigation, navigation, cleaning, and harnessing its power.

More people produced more waste, and the water, believed to be a universal cleanser, began to fill with ever more pollutants and contaminants, long before early populations even understood the meaning of those concepts. They soon did understand that activities upstream could send troubled waters downstream to their own water supply. Battles ensued over water rights and access to the best sources. Not poisoning or dirtying wells was an early lesson learned. The folk belief that running water unconditionally cleans itself led to accelerating pollution and abuses.

There is the fairytale of the wolf, drinking from a creek upstream from a lamb, accusing the lamb of sullying his water, as a pretext to attack the lamb. The writer clearly understood the wiliness of predators, animal and human.

India's Ganges, its waters held sacred, gradually grew to a total sewer, while the inhabitants continue to drink it, bathe in it, defecate in it, and consign their dead bodies to it. Old ideas die hard.

To claim that all have a "right" to clean water is to demand that some people take action and invest time, money and energy to provide this water to all claimants. That is a formula for slavery. Those with the knowledge to manage water have a right to be paid for this service. Since no one can "own" all the water of the earth, and water flows downhill from a pure source, it behooves all of us to change our habits and infrastructure and prevent water contamination. That will require finding alternate means to process waste, to dispose of it and recycle it. We can learn from nature how to develop symbiotic systems. And we need to learn that not everything nature does is good for us.

For example, we live on a water planet, and we need drinking water. Why does nature wash more and more salt into the oceans? What is salt good for? Yes, we need some in our bodies and our food, but not in our water. Human intelligence needs to find a means to build efficient technology to turn ocean waters back into fresh, clean water. The desalination industry is our future. Now to find a good use for all that salt by-product.

In brief: everyone has the right to work to obtain what he or she needs to live, including water. No one has the right to demand that someone else provide it for them.

Doing productive work and exchanging it with others for what they have produced is the only just and lasting social relationship of intelligent beings. Let us solve our problems without resorting to force and servitude. Let's clean up our planet, our home, and be good custodians of its life-nurturing processes. Let's put our resources there, not throw them away on wars and sabotage.

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