pass the water

Water tables are falling everywhere, and water shortages are getting worse, very fast.

And before you hit me with the weather last week in Abergavenny, I’m talking about other parts of the world. Not just Australia, whose drought has destroyed 98% of its rice production, not to mention all those dead kangaroos, but all over the Third World, too. 1.2 billion people in the world – about one in four – are now short of water 

So you curl up, mewing, ‘That’s the problem! We didn’t use to know about this stuff! It’s the press that’s making us so depressed!’ I have to remind you that, in fact, this stuff is now our problem whether you like it or not, thanks both to the West’s rampaging colonialism of all varieties, which has caused much of the actual and perceived deprivation in the world, and to the ubiquity of air travel. There’s no ‘elsewhere’ any more, and we made it that way.

Water is what plants, animals and people need to grow. There’s the water you think you use: the couple of litres you drink, and the 145 litres you use without even knowing it (or in Mr Fixit’s case, make that 300 litres) in cooking and cleaning and washing.

Then there’s the 3,400 litres of embedded water each of us consumes. Every day.

Embedded water is the water buried in things we buy and eat. It takes 185 litres to produce one packet of crisps, 200 litres to produce one glass of milk, 135 to lay a single egg, and 14,400 litres to grow ONE kilo of beef. Or a pair of shoes. Right there you have another reason to give up meat. Sorry.

So when we import food, we’re also importing other people’s water. Many countries depend on food exports to survive, so they have to use their own water to grow food for export, leaving their own people desperately short of it.

One answer is breeding less thirsty vegetables. Why does a tomato have to be 95% water? Make way for the solid tomato 

But it’s one small, partial, solution. And you can bet those tomatoes are going to be trademarked, and privatized, and expensive.

Then, of course, there’s drinking water. I am old enough to remember being proud of having safe tap water. (I am very old). These days, the depraved population of the UK gets through 37 litres of bottled water per head every year – more than all fizzy drinks put together.

Luckily, we seem to be coming to our senses, possibly due to well-publicised revelations that bottled water is, as often as not, tap water with a pretty face.

However, in the great tradition of I’m not a Plastic Bag, PR company Provokateur has decided we’re more likely to drink tap water from bottles if they have super-cool sticky labels on them, saying – er – Tap 

There are, however, places where there’s no choice. in India, the fastest-growing market, demand for bottled water has increased from two million cases in 1990 to seventy million last year. Not because Indians need yet more meaningless choices to soak up their spare neuronal bandwidth, but because that’s all there is. In most places, there is no drinkable tap water and local governments have decided it’s easier to charge private companies to extract and purify groundwater than to bother doing it themselves, and getting the money back in taxes.

Of course, the problem with this system is that only the rich can afford it. Still, it’s a nice little earner for the water companies. The £50 billion spent on bottled water every year is seven times the amount invested in safe drinking water 

And guess who’s leading the way? Yes, it’s the people who brought us Dasani. The Coca Cola water bottling plant in Kal Dera, a drought prone area near Jaipur, bottles groundwater and sells it for ten times what it pays the government to extract it.

So, if you really can’t survive the journey to work without water, don’t be a plastic bottle, or even a Tap – just hold the bottle under a (lower case) tap, and be grateful.