Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Water Hazards

Soaking horses
Soaking horses, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
Okay, I suppose that I wouldn't really advocate a dip in the canal to ease the pains of being on your feet all day. It is, however a common sight in the canal near Nazlit Semman to see the horses soaking after schlepping tourists all over the desert behind the pyramids. As far as I know horses don't get bilharzia, which is the main problem (though not the only problem) with the canal water as a soaking agent. One of the primary problems with soaking horses in canals, as far as I can see, is that it is a rather dangerous proposition.

Every now and then I will hear of some child who has been drowned bathing horses in canals. Usually these are kids who are at least 10 years old or so, but it is tragic nevertheless. Most of them can't swim well and if a horse panics in a canal, the child can be pulled in easily. Many of the canals are quite deep, especially on the days when the water is being pumped in from the Nile. Then there is the issue of all the weird stuff that is dumped in the canals and is available to entangle someone in the water.

I have a phobia about fresh water swimming, oddly enough. Growing up in Southern California most of the fresh water that I saw was either in the form of a creek (good water) or in a man made lake (bad water) which often had been formed by damming a valley and letting the water fill the area without removing trees and other vegetation. While the fish may like old dead tree trunks, I got a message very early on that they were dangerous when one of my neighbours skipped school to go swimming in a local reservoir with a friend, only to have the friend drown when he got entangled in a tree. It was a lesson that I never forgot.

As a child I loved to play with water though, and irrigating the fruit trees in our garden was a treat for us as we were allowed to channel the water from one tree to another in canals that we would dig. I see the children here doing this as well, but unfortunately the water quality isn't quite the same. The fact is, however, that the bilharzia problem is not one that is going to lend itself to an easy solution. I can't imagine how one would clean entire river systems of these flukes, and the idea that farmers and their families can work their fields without contact with the snails that carry the flukes is ludicrous.

The medication to treat bilharzia is widely available and not very expensive, but how can you treat something that is simply going to re-infect someone as soon as they are in contact with the water again? The whole problem is seriously puzzling. How can you protect people from something that is an integral part of the environment? Maybe you simply can't and need to try to improve other aspects of the life instead. The problem isn't going to get smaller, however. There are projects underway to bring Nile water to the Sinai peninsula in pipes and canals. Bringing Nile water for irrigation will also bring Nile water problems to a new area of the country that is currently free of Bilharzia. I suppose that one could try treating the entire irrigation system, but simply treating the water won't get rid of the snails and anyway chlorinated water really isn't that great for plants.

It's a puzzler.