Water is Life??

by Christiaan Morssink

Water is life as the saying goes. And indeed, H2O is an essential component of everything living. Water not only brings nutrients and removes dead matter, but it also combines with oxygen to create electricity for brain and heart and muscles. 

Wastewater or waste in water can be death, especially when that waste is raw and highly concentrated. In the spreadsheet of human history there is a special column tracking the struggle of humans to keep wastewater away and drinking water nearby and calling that sanitation. We build infrastructure around water and sanitation. Indeed, transportation of waste is a hallmark of modern city life, well organized where the rich are concentrated, not so much where the more impoverished people spend their daily lives. 

In some countries, water and sanitation systems are indeed involving all of the citizenry and they have showcased often how sanitation is a matter of the commons. However, the alarm bells about the changes in weather patterns brought about by climate change bring about a need to review and readjust their proud investments in civil engineering. The calamities of the once in a hundred years disasters are becoming too fast and too often. It’s time for re-thinking our infrastructure and its capacity.

Case in point: I am from Twente, in The Netherlands, where recently, people were confronted with a massive die-off of fish in rivers, canals and ponds; ponds that are a well-designed and beautiful systems to handle storm water, but, fun fact, NOT THAT MUCH water. There was so much rain coming down that the wastewater systems overflowed and mingled with the storm water. Stench from dead fish prohibited any stroll along the parks and ponds and rivers. No big deal in a country that deftly handles clean-up and employs a good civic warning system, that is if you aren’t a fish. However, it is a big deal when you realize that these severe storms are arriving with greater frequency and other dramatic effects such as a fish kill.

It is past time for rethinking our infrastructure and keeping sanitation a safe part of our built environment. If you did not have an opportunity to attend our our webinar on June 9th to hear about what water professionals are pondering, you can listen to the recording here:

And by Jupiter, let’s hope that our politicians can shed their co-dependency and be constructive participants in the policy debates that are sure to follow these climate-changing times.

Dr. Morssink is the President of the Global Water Alliance and his interests are as varied and flowing as water itself, such as: the effects of the built environment on health, the elimination of health disparities, urban farming to end hunger, and the campaign to ban and clear landmines and cluster bombs in communities around the world. Water is his first love.