Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Water, Water Everywhere And Not A Drop To Drink

Cattle Egret in a Canal
Cattle Egret in a Canal, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
There's an old man who works at our airline. He's worked for our family for many years and over the years we've given him the odd bit of money to help pay for his son's medications and dialysis. His son has been on dialysis since he was about 10 years old or so and now his wife is on it as well. The reason that his family have to have dialysis is that the wells in his village are polluted with the runoff from fertilizers used in the fields. The phosphates and nitrates that accumulate will destroy a person's kidneys, as well as kill infants under 6 months of age when they bond with the iron in the blood in place of oxygen.

Pretty nasty isn't it? Our canals are picturesque if you see them at the right time of day when the light reflects off the surface instead of penetrating to show the rubbish that's accumulated under the water. Riding at dusk, they are streams of quicksilver etched with the ebony images of the trees and passing villagers. Their beauty is breathtaking. If you fall into them you need a serious dose of an anti-parasitic or you risk getting bilharzia (schistosomiasis), and if you drink from them, well, forget it.

It is the nature of the world to incorporate extreme beauty with extreme danger, I think. I just wish that it was the nature of governments worldwide to care more about the welfare of the poorer people who have their lives cut short by a lack of decent water. There are "fresh water" wells dug all over the countryside, but if the wells are not deep enough, they are polluted by the runoff from the fields. Poor people have a hard time scraping up the LE 2000 that it cost me to dig a well that would provide me with non-poisonous water. Where I have a good well, I've installed a tap outside the garden wall so that my neighbours can use the water. But they still wash clothes in the irrigation water.

Rome wasn't built in a day and the Egyptian countryside won't be cleaned up in one either.


ringgit said...

I used to grow up in a rural area where we use well and some sort of manual pump to extract the water. I remember my mother having to work laboriously on the pump each morning to get cold fresh water. That was many years ago. Ah.. the memories.

Is there a limit to the supply of water from well? I mean, will it run out after a number of years?

Maryanne said...

My understanding of the well situation is that the Nile Valley has a very high water table. There's probably as much water flowing through the soil as there is flowing down the Nile, but it isn't all useful. I asked a neighbour about wells today. At 18 metres, the water has bad chemicals in it. At 23 metres it is good. Deeper than that and it is flowing through a clay layer that leaves a lot of sediment and minerals.

Our wells don't seem to go dry, but that doesn't mean that they can't

Anonymous said...

Leila from Dove's Eye View here:

This post makes me think of our own fine Bush administration, which is trying to roll back the laws enacted in the USA to protect the water supplies. The right wing believes that "the market" ought to regulate such matters, not the government. They want us to go backward, to where children lose their kidneys because of contaminated water.

Meanwhile, us "airy-fairy" liberals pay extra to buy organic food, in part because of our commitment to sustainable agriculture. It's not just that we don't want to eat pesticides and chemicals, it's that we care about what happens downstream from the food we eat. Your post reminds me why I support sustainable agriculture by paying a premium for organic food. The technology is proven and it's the right way to go, for the whole ecosystem, not just for those of us privileged enough to pay for high priced food.

BTW, although my blog started out devoted to signs of hope for peace in the Middle East, I seem to cover food and environmental issues too. Thank you for posting this piece, Maryanne.