Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Water, not for everyone

Several years ago I traveled in northern India and found it far more wonderful than I had expected. My last night was in Gangtok, Sikkim. Early the next morning I was leaving the small group to return home, so it was arranged that a young man with a spiffy SUV would take me down from the mountains to tiny Bogdara airport four hours away. As we drove through the post-dawn streets I watched a familiar site; Bags of garbage that had been left on the sidewalks were being picked up by trucks -- not the bemoths of NYC, more like ancient pick-ups. Well oirganized civic services. The previous morning I had watched a boy of about 8 squatting out side his house beside an open gutter by the road brushing his teeth and spitting into the gutter. I realized his house probably did not have running water. At the outskirts of the city a bridge crossed the Testa River which flowed down from the grand mountiains to the north. On the bridge one of the "garbage trucks" was parked. The workers were vigorously throwing their load of garbage over the rail into the river.

Today I'm reading an article about the water crisis that affects much of India ... and have recently read how seriously a similar problem will (or already does) affect much of Africa, China and many other parts of the world. Already half the people of the world don't have the kind of clean water and sanitaion Romans enjoyed 2000 years ago. Already a billion people lack access to drinking water and half a billion have never seen a toilet. Those are staggering numbers. How blindly we Americans go about flushing toilets and taking showers and watering lawns, filling swimming pools. As with all other resources, Americans use four times more water per day per person than the average person elsewhere in the world.

No, I suppose I won't change any of my habits. A lesson I've learned from traveling a great deal is that we need to step out of our parochialism and understand that our lives are privileged. This is not a "count your blessings" situation; it's an open your eyes and realize we share a small planet with limited resources with a lot of people who don't have what we have.

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