Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Is water a basic human right or human need? This simple but intriguing question was asked by Dr. Takahiro Kuba during one of the lectures I attended. Being true to its existence in nature - elegantly in abundance yet ungenerous, one may found it difficult to obtain freshwater. He was quoted as saying, 'if the earth was a sphere 1.5m in diameter, how much freshwater would it have? 1 bucket? 1 plastic bottle? A glass? Sadly, it's not. It's just 1 spoon of water!'

Water plays important role in humans' daily-life in terms of public (recreational means, catchments, agricultures, fisheries etc.) and private usages (drinking water, industries and household chores). That said, clearly, one can gauge the weightage it carries along should the already scarce water we have (do we really own them?) plunges.

Water gives life to plants and is essential for food production. Needless to say, like everything in the planet, water has become a commodity taken for granted, believing it'll be there forever. As the world is faced with diminishing water resources and reports predicting acute shortages in coming years (F. Chowdhury, 2010) we seriously need to address water issue the attention it deserved, instead of waiting for the catastrophe to unveil!

Governments all over the world admittedly acknowledged its vital value - either naturally or at the instigation of peer pressures - leading to more sagacious decisions (or so they were implied) with regards to water issues. The truth is, billions of lives in Africa consumed approximately 60L, less than 3L for some people in Latin America as compared to global average of 170L/person/day.

Through the Washington Consensus, it was made common philosophy under the new economic model that the entire world should engage in a free-market based economy which enables the benefactors to deregulate cross-border policies (relaxation of regulations, tariffs reductions, market liberalizations, investments etc.) which includes water privatization policies ('commodification' of water being common good to commodity) designed to further strengthen their dominance of right to water.

Before long, injustices with regard to freshwater supply and privatization issues arise in almost all continents. In Phillippines, it was reported that water price increased by 4 times in 1997, in 1980s water prices increased by 30% in UK. Similarly, the poor get expensive (often polluted) water in buckets while rich people are offered cheap and sanitized water from taps in Lima, Peru. Likewise in South Africa, more than 100 thousand people were contracted with cholera in 10 months with approximately 220 people died as a result of water supply deprivation (The World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002).

Narrowing the scope to Malaysia based on the World Bank: Environment at a glance (2008), access to improved water source was recorded as 94-99 % in 2004. This data seemingly indicated an impression that almost all areas in the country has been covered with better water access - note that the criteria was improved water sources not access to water supply. In reality, thousands of families living in the outskirt of urban areas are still in the fell clutch of tap water supply. Anyway, to the government's credit, there were 'improvements' in terms of majestic dams, exaggerated projects etc. but at what price? The river - considered to be the source of life by the indigenous - quenches not only their daily needs/rights but also their blue gold!

Although, it's common sense for the the elected government to end up with rigorous plans in order to spur development, common good such as the case of freshwater should not be thoroughly sidelined. If the price for developments must be paid with massive environmental fallouts (though can be controlled and restored with technology - our willingness?) then it's fair, I guess, to realize some thing like water, air and nature in it's full glory are humans' basic rights; deserving protection, preservation and continuity of existence.

The importance and scarcity of water today, if not properly handled, may trigger century of water wars in the future. Ismail Serageldin, former World Bank Vice President (1995) was quoted as saying 'Many of the wars of this (20th) century were about oil, but the wars of the next century will be about water.' Aggravated by the impending chaos it may brings, one must opt to treasure water as a blessing and starts to regulate water issues vehemently.
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