Monday, October 18, 2010

Watered-Down Thoughts: Tunisia

By Noah Sabich (+ photos)

Travel, in any context, rouses exciting thoughts and discovery. In Tunisia, at least for this Western traveler and surf enthusiast, the intensity of the arid climate amplified the number of these revelations. In the relative dryness of the Sahara, one theme reoccurred at every moment of my stay: water. Tunisia, with its increase in tourism, urban sprawl, irrigation, and population
relentlessly depletes the water that rivers and aquifers supply. Even more, as I sadly learned as a result of a bait-and-switch technique in a mineral water bottle, the potable stuff is, well, not so clean. The lack of drinkable water, or water at all, is not a story unique to the Tunisian people. In a rather distressing 2006 U.N. report entitled Coping With Water Scarcity, the authors reveal the state of water supplies around the globe:

"Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water. By 2025, 1 800 million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions. The situation will be exacerbated as rapidly growing urban areas place heavy
pressure on neighboring water resources (2)."

As the world copes with less water and reduced sanitation, these grim realities underscore the importance of protecting these precious reserves for our health, world security, and enjoyment. As fans of the most prominent element on the planet, how do we ensure the availability of this essential resource? Answering this question confronts us with the challenge to develop innovative technological advances and a new vision of water usage.

Every society is capable of supporting, comfortably, its inhabitants because we possess the genius, albeit sometimes latent, to awaken progressive innovation. Let us perfect systems such as aerial wells, dew ponds, fog fences, and rain barrel collectors to at least supplement our consumption. These dynamic methods could partially and harmlessly recover the atmospheric humidity vital to our continuation. Yes, the local climate and topography greatly limit their yield and effectiveness, but science can overcome these natural barriers. We, as Americans with all our wisdom about healthy and accessible water, can lead this revolution.

Avaricious use of water signifies a massive failure for the world, a chance missed that plagues both developed and underdeveloped countries alike. The deliverance from this cupidity is not merely a question of bemoaning our greed, but creating a paradigm shift that radically and
substantively alters our habits. What form will this revision take and when will it happen? I do not have the response to these questions, yet I optimistically envision cultures streamlining their water delivery systems to ensure all nations have access to adequate supplies.

I hope for myself, as an enormous fan of water’s health benefits, to begin with little changes at home. I am guilty of excessive water consumption and do not deny my involvement in the perpetuation of its scarcity. It is my firm belief, however, that my awareness and reflection will promote enduring habits that may make a small difference. I aim to limit my shower time, capture rain, and turn off the water while brushing my teeth or scrubbing pots and pans.

Water, something so elemental, is not always so elementary. The complicated nature of its use, accessibility, and cleanliness are not beyond human control though. We all must take responsibility in water conservation. Besides, who knows better than the people that spend
their days drinking it!

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