On my travels, I can’t help but notice how the western house and garden is being influenced by oriental philosophies. Buddhas of every kind and dancing Shivas decorate lounge rooms, offices and front yards. Health shops are filled with traditional Asian remedies to cure, to beautify, to keep us subtle. We have the luxury of the spiritual culture from India, Thailand, Tibet and many countries of Africa enriching our chaotic yet comfortable western lives. And yet, some of these culturally rich countries are the poorest in the world suffering basic food and water shortages.
It is now common knowledge that we are having fresh water shortages on our blue planet. The same countries that enrich our western lifestyles mostly suffer these extreme water challenges. The ownership of ‘Water Rights’ along with the radical changes in the water movement on the planet has decreased the access to fresh water. The Murray-Darling River fish crisis in Australia is a perfect example. Up to a million Murray cod have died across a 40-kilometre stretch. It is believed that the water management practices of some upstream areas are the cause. Researchers are stating that too much water is being removed from the northern Basin and irrigators need to reduce their take by 40 per cent. Numerous experts have called the fish deaths a preventable catastrophe.
While areas are drying out faster than ever, floods sweep through other areas. These factors, along with others, have shaped the lives of 884 million people lacking access to safe water supplies (one in eight people). Of this, 3.6 million people die each year from water-related diseases, 84% of these deaths are of children aged between 0 – 14 years.
Western cultures have long had the luxury of an easy going attitude about the water we use, and more often than not, that attitude has led us to unnecessary waste and pollution of our water. When asked, “where does your water come from?” many people reply, “from my tap”. And from this tap, the average European uses 200 litres of water per day, Australians and Americans use approximately 340 litres of water per day whilst a person from African or Asian can use only 10 to 50 litres per day.
The Human Rights Allocation of 50 liters of clean water per day for basic needs of bathing, sanitation, and drinking is about the amount we use to flush our toilets daily. This is one of the worst offenders in the household for wasting precious clean water. We take for granted the convenience of pushing a button to flush toilets and having litres of drinkable water transport our human manure away. Clean water requires huge amounts of energy to be chemically treated and pumped into our homes; it uses up groundwater, which puts stress on natural habitats in wetlands and rivers.
So how can we synchronize with our Asian nurturers and African neighbours? How can we use less water in our daily lives? Apart from the obvious such as turning off the taps and taking short showers to save water we need to once again delve into who we are. The Sanskrit word kwei means to dwell with, as well as to care for. We are led back to an idea, deep in language, that we need to learn to live once again with care.
Stan Rowe suggests that the most self-evident is the realization that we exist in nature and not the “environment” as a part of creation. Without digging deep into a faulty system to discover the source of the language and understanding breakdown, we condemn ourselves to false icons and borrowed cultural traditions.