Last night I watched a documentary from the incredible series Human Planet. It focused on the ingenious and astonishing lengths people go to in order to have access to water. From community traditions found in the Sahara including Algerian tunnellers that tap into ancient water networks, to fog harvesting in the Atacama desert in Chile, one of the driest places on Earth.
It reminded me of the inspiring Greening the Desert documentary by Geoff Lawton. This is based in Jordan, a country where 92% of the land is desert, with the remaining land in arid highlands (Amman) and the arid Jordan valley. It has one of the lowest levels of water availability per capita in the world and is in water overshoot – drawing much of its water from non-renewable deep aquifer reserves. The concept of drinking historic water which hasn’t been touched for thousands of years is compelling. But longevity is exactly what water excels in. It just keeps enduring, evaporating, precipitating, flowing through all living things. Ancient, yet fresh, able to revitalise our body, giving us life for another day. It must be one of the most recycled items us humans consume. Polluting to the extent of rendering water useless, or even harmful, may be considered a crime against humanity.
Gratefully, I’ve never had to experience the effects of drought. But I’m getting a little closer. This year, I’m living in Kenya. It’s now the dry season and our rainwater harvesting tanks are empty. I’m managing to have the odd shower and I’m getting used to a new mode of grubbiness. Fortunately, we have a car and there’s a spring about a mile or so away, where we can collect drinking water, passing it through a .1 micron filter to keep the more eager bugs out. Water feels scarce, but we are lucky. Priviledged. This experience is certainly helping me appreciate the preciousness of water.
Drought isn’t just affecting the usual culprits. My friend was telling me last night that the South East of England is having a drought. “In February???” I gasped. A quick search confirmed it. Southern England is one of Europe’s most water stressed areas. It’s undoubtably a problem but I don’t feel it should be that difficult to deal with, technically speaking. In the built environment, examples like BedZED demonstrate how you can significantly reduce water consumption without affecting lifestyle quality. And in our streets and on our roofs, there is so much opportunity for better surface water management, which can be twinned with improving natural habitats and increasing local food growing. We can do it, if we really want to.
The greatest challenge is for desert-like countries such as Jordan where there is population growth, diminishing resources, heavy industrial agriculture polluting water courses, and climate change to exacerbate the problem. We need pioneers to show that the answers are within easy reach of us all. That’s why I love Geoff Laughton’s “Greening the Desert”, Permaculture Farms and One Planet Communities. And of course, documentaries such as Human Planet for providing us with a beautiful perspective on water around the world.