The Water Issue

The Water Issue
The Water Issue

The camera always pans wide and films the girls with a focus on their never-ending sad eyes; their curled hair is shaved into a skullcap and worn on perfectly round heads. To me, these little girls, Afua, Saba, Shu, are not only breathtakingly beautiful, but they tell a harrowing story with just one glimpse.

So what is the reason behind this Canadian culture article to travel such a long distance to Africa? This article, after all, isn’t an advert for charity, nor is it a lecture to rouse derisive comments. It’s a small reminder that in Canada, we’re lucky.

In Canada, we don’t need a film crew to expound the benefits that when we turn on the tap, water gushes out. Children no longer walk uphill, both ways, in the eye of a winter storm to fetch anything. Our fortunes come to us because we are born in a country rich in natural resources. Despite some individuals raising complaints, we live among the world’s most enviable infrastructure; we can achieve anything as long as we have the tenacity to apply ourselves.

When those commercials for charities come on the television, they reinforce just how fortunate a Canadian is by the simple means of the birth lottery and all because we have access to pure water.

It is predicted that by the year 2025, which used to sound so far in the future, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. It’s possible to debate both sides of climate change, yet it hardly matters what side you are on, the facts are evident: more drought, more floods. Unfortunately, these prevalent issues don’t cancel one another out. People are either dying of thirst or drowning.

Canada makes the list of the top five countries with renewable freshwater resources. Brazil, Russia, the United States, Canada, and China are the primary holders of access to freshwater simply because of geography. To draw a pie chart of how water availability is proportioned on the planet, a staggering 97% is sea or saline water. Unless you are a marine animal, you can’t drink that. The remaining 3% splits like this: 2.5-2.75% is freshwater, which includes the 1.75-2% of freshwater frozen in glaciers, ice, and snow. The missing percentage of that equation is 0.5-.75% or fresh groundwater and soil moisture. Less than 0.01% equals surface water in lakes, swamps, and rivers.

Math is complicated, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that as a critical element in the survival of humans and animals—water is a precious commodity. This minuscule percentage is divided like this; 87% is freshwater lakes, which in my opinion already makes Canada and the USA wealthy— beyond comparison. The world’s lake systems are ranked as follows: The Great Lakes are 21%, Lake Baikal in Russia captures 22%, while the African States share 29% of the pie, and the remaining 14% is shared among the rest of the world. Not sure how that figure translates into per capita, but it’s not hard to see where the world lacks water. It affects the poorest in the most catastrophic ways. Not only does it affect their health, but it also affects their ability to earn wages, to receive an education. It’s a spin cycle they can’t escape. And only through proper government management, through tighter regulations and investment, a keen eye on polluters, will society ever overcome this hurdle. Dare I suggest conservation to those who have plenty?

Again you ask, what does that have to do with Canadian culture? Everything. As Canadians, we are known for our humble generosity. But the future is knocking on our doorstep with an extended hand holding a bucket and pleading for help. Will we have enough water to share or just enough for our own? How can we, as Canadians and our American partners, make a difference? Simple. Conserve. The next time you drain the sink or bath, watch the water drain and think of Afua, of Saba, and Shu, who have to trek for miles to haul filthy water home for their families. Water that can kill them, water that will sustain them just long enough to feel the effects of the contaminants. Think of their families, their hardships, and mostly, think how lucky you are.

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