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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Global village voices: Water
Access to water is vital for every living creature on the planet.

Despite its abundance, over two-fifths of people face severe shortages of this precious commodity.

We asked you to tell us how water affects your life.


You sent us your photos, and told us about your experiences from every corner of the globe.

And, on Sunday, 8 June, we broadcast some of your stories in a special programme, Global Village Voices, on the BBC World Service.

Select the link below to listen to the programme, or read the transcript.


Zeinab Badawi:
Welcome to Global Village voices . I'm Zeinab Badawi and in this programme we'll been hearing from you about how water affects your lives - ordinary stories from people all over the world but with a common thread - water is a precious resource.

It is indeed one of the world most important resources - yet two fifths of the people of our planet face severe shortages of it.

In Africa - the situation is most acute and access to clean drinking water alone accounts for thousands of deaths a day , particularly children.

For many like Joyce Tunda in Tanzania -getting clean water is a daily struggle to keep her and her family well - and alive.

Joyce Tunda:
My name is Joyce Tunda. Collecting water takes me five hours a day. I leave home at two in the morning and I get water at six. I have two children - one died from diarrhoea. The other is fourteen - she's usually sick because of the dirty water we are using.

Zeinab Badawi:
In neighbouring Uganda the situation is also desperate for many.

Moses Deleo Wichane set up an organization called Divine Waters to try to bring clean supplies to his village.

So far they have drilled over 100 hand pumped wells in rural communities. Here's his story.

Moses Deleo:
I am called Moses DeLeo Wichane. Right now I'm talking from Lira, Uganda. There's a big, serious shortage of water in, not only northern Uganda, but throughout the country because most families cannot afford to bring tap water into their homes and into their areas.

And a government can only reach those areas, like town areas, and only a few individual rich men can afford to tap this water to this their houses.

So the rural people and other urban people, who cannot afford to do that, or even tenants who are renting, the only source that they can use is from these bore holes and springs.

As I talk now in Lira where I am in a district, the coverage of water which is a clean water source is only about 23%. So that means we have like about 77 [%] at least to cover to make 100%. So you see how low that is.

But the government is beginning now to realise that the greatest need is to provide safe drinking water."

Zeinab Badawi:
Across the continents now in India-the access to clean water is also an everyday struggle for many.

Water in the river Ganges is sacred to Hindus - but many find they are unable to get fresh daily supplies.

The river water is polluted with high levels of rubbish and sewage. Here's Navarantnam Ramachandra

Navaratnam Ramachandra:
My name is Ramachandra.

For several there has been a shortage of water in this area, but I was surprised when I walked around to see numerous pond - some of them are several hundred feet long.

There's one right behind me here and they are all completely neglected. The water is, I think, suitable - beyond about half a mile away is the extent of the corporation area - a municipal area.

Water is supplied there for a couple of hours a day. And a lot of people from here line up with their buckets around those houses there to buy water - to purchase it at about 1.50 rupee per bucket.

And every day a huge lorry comes - I don't know where they get their water from - but they come round these housing areas and sell it at 2 rupees a bucket.

And there is a sort of big business in this water supply and there is nothing the government or the corporation, anybody is doing anything about it.

And my feeling is that there is no reason why there should be this shortage of water around this area considering these numerous ponds that you see.

Zeinab Badawi:
Many people in India blame their water problems on the building of huge dams.

The construction of the Narmada dam brought thousands of people to the streets in protest.

This is Himanshu Thakar's story.

Himanshu Thakar:
Large dams can have many very significant impacts on common persons lives and their access to water and livelihood.

India has already built more than 4,000 large dams. In the world it is the third largest dam-building country.

But if you specifically focus on a dam and what kind of impact it can have, it will give you an idea that what range of impacts the dams can bring.

First of all the dam submerges a huge amount of land which leads to the submergence of lands of the people, the villages, their common properties, their forests and so on.

So direct displacement is the first impact due to the dams and its submergence.

The second direct impact is that the dam also takes away a lot of land from the people for the building of colonies for the canals and several other infrastructure-related work.

To give you an example, in case of Sardar Sarovar, the most known struggle is the struggle due to the displacement due to the submergence brought about by the dam.

But the dam submerges only about 40,000 hectares of land, which is not a big amount.

But the canals of the dam is going to take away more than two lake hectares of land - which is five times the land that will go under submergence.

That gives you an idea of the impact that the other related infrastructure can bring, on the impact that can be brought on the people.

The third major direct impact of the dam is due to the submergence of forest that it brings about.

In India the forests are all inhabited by people - mostly indigenous people stay in the forest or depend on the forest. And when those forests are destroyed, they lose their livelihood, their culture and everything.

And not only that, they also do not get compensated because the government declares all of them are illegal occupiers.

And so they not only lose everything that belongs to them, they are not even recorded as displaced people and do not get any rehabilitation benefits.

Zeinab Badawi:
For people who have little or no access to water, or who have to ration what little water they have, the abundance of the element in the Western World can come as quite a shock.

Robyn Anderson came to England from South Africa, and she tells us how amazed she was to see how the British waste their water:

Robyn Anderson:
My name is Robyn Anderson. I came over from South Africa in 1997.

On arriving in England, firstly I was amazed by the amount of rain you get.

When I was growing up in South Africa, we would often experience a couple of year's drought and then heavy rain.

During the times of drought, the water levels in the dam would almost be non-existent.

We'd have to take precautions just to make sure there was no wastage.

Growing up in this lifestyle of trying to conserve water, I was amazed in England the attitude towards water because of its abundance.

I found it very much taken for granted. For example, when my partner runs a bath it will be almost full up to the brim, whereas I would be used to filling the bath only half-way up.

And if he was cleaning his teeth, the water would run the whole time while he was cleaning his teeth.

If people in South Africa had to be exposed to the way people in wealthier countries used and wasted water they'd be shocked and I think they'd be abhorred because they value water because they have to struggle that much more in times when they don't have as much.

We go through situations where you're not allowed to water your garden at all. You end up having to recycle bath-water, etc.

And there's always a famous advertising campaign that says "Don't bath - shower with a friend" which is a humorous way of promoting water conservation, but it strikes a chord.

But I think it'd be quite horrific... In hotels and guesthouses in South Africa they've now taken to - because of the huge tourist markets - putting up signs in the bathrooms: "Water is a precious resource, please conserve." And they're trying to bring it across to tourists that water is a problem."

Zeinab Badawi:
But its not just hot countries that have problems with their water supplies.

Even in countries where the rainfall is heavy - ordinary people have their lives affected by lack of water all year round.

And remote locations no matter where they are in the world suffer the most from not being linked up to running water.

Here's a story from a mother in a remote Scottish Island

Jenny Redway:
My name is Jenny Redaway and I and my son live in Tobermory on the Island of Mull which is off the west coast of Scotland.

We do get an awful lot of water, particularly on the west coast.

In May of this year - 2003 - we actually got in Scotland 164% of the average May rainfall.

On the other hand, earlier on this year, we had three very dry months and the people on the island who don't have a mains water supply had their springs and their wells drying up.

So even then, even in a really wet place in the world, we can still have water shortages.

I happen to think, in the Western World, we spend a lot of money - quite rightly - on promoting energy saving.

But we don't do very much at all about water saving.

I think we should be doing an awful lot more to educate people about how much little water there is available in the world, what we can be doing to conserve water, and how we can actually keep things going for the future.

Personally I think the water because it is such a limited resources needs to be part of not just a single government agreement but it needs to be actually a worldwide kind of agreement because we're not talking about something that we can just renew.

We live where we've got lots of wind - we can generate electricity through wind turbines.

What we've really got to be doing is realising there is an absolute limit to the actual limit to the amount of fresh water available to us.

And we should be globally - a bit, if you like, like Kyoto - we should agreeing at what we are going to do as a global unit about the problems of water shortages.

Zeinab Badawi:
People in rich countries use 10 times more water than in poor ones - but still as the world comes to accept it cannot increase its supply of freshwater - people are coming to terms with the fact they have to change the way we use our supplies.

In southern California, farmers are making use of a new system to grow their crops - hydroponics - where they use water to cultivate their produce and so avoid the heavy burden of having to irrigate soil.

David Goldman in Pasadena USA is one farmer who is trying out the new system.

David Goldman: Growing our plants in a hydroponics environment, water is... Well, hydroponics means water working - so it's extremely important to us.

It's so important that we use reverse osmosis equipment to filter everything out of the water. We conserve every drop of water we can. We recycle the water as long as we can for several weeks.

During hot years we don't take that much of a hit in the hydroponic system - the plants will drink more water but since we lose almost nothing to evaporation, our water bills are really not that much higher in the summer time.

However, the other half of our operation - the organic half - that's grown in the ground - our water bill just skyrockets and we really start to see - we really start to appreciate the hyrodroponically-grown produce.

It saves us a ton of money and water bills in the summertime.

I think the biggest issue that farmers here in southern California are facing is the fact that the natural resources that we've all grown accustomed to are beginning to diminish and the water supply is becoming a little more scarce - the price of water is going up.

And the other reason is that land is becoming more and more scarce and definitely a lot more expensive and it doesn't become as cost-effective to farm on that land any more.

So I think a lot of growers are in the process turning towards hydroponics because of the fact that it uses less land, it uses a lot less water.

It doesn't matter how fertile the land is, we can produce hydroponic produce on any kind of land - we can produce it on concrete.

So I think there's going to be a big move - there already is a big move - but I think its just going to continue to go in that direction.

As we use more and more of our natural resources up, I think a lot of growers are going to start looking towards hydroponics as a way of growing in the future.

Zeinab Badawi:
From southern California to southern Spain - both arid regions of the world where ordinary people are having to make the most of their environment and find inventive ways to beat nature and her water supply.

Michael Baker is an Englishman who has set up a farming project in Coin.

Michael Baker:
My name is Michael Baker. Currently I am living on a project in Southern Spain that I have set up, having been working in the UK on sustainable living, and recycling, and organic farming / organic husbandry.

The project that I set up here in Southern Spain contains particular reference to rain harvesting and conservation of water.

In doing this, I've got deeply involved in the full process from recycling the water from the clouds, bringing it down, filtering it, using it domestically, in low quantity and with grey water products outpouring from the house that goes straight into the crops that we are growing.

It's a small project but the emphasis is utmost on water conservation - environmental sustainable living.

Water itself - for drinking and for agricultural purposes - is not a single issue.

Its an issue that involves both first world countries and third world countries.

Here in Southern Spain it is a major issue. If you look on the BBC World Service plan map, you will see that Southern Spain is one of the areas identified as a particular area of concern.

Here there is a sharp contrast between the need for the population to generate income from tourism - so tourism is attracted to the Costa itself.

There are certain aspects to the tourism here, I would focus on golf courses, where large quantities of water are used on the coast itself to keep golf courses in good order.

But here, inland, there is a particular big issue going on at this present moment in time, about damming the Rio Grande in Southern Spain, to provide more water for the resources on the coast.

The consequence of this is that many people locally will lose their income.

They will lose very fertile soil where they've been growing oranges, avocados and other fruit.

In consequence to that there is a major change, a social change, and an environmental change just to meet the needs of the tourism industry and in particular golf courses."

Zeinab Badawi:
Water borne diseases account for the deaths of one child every 8 seconds.

It is a horrific statistic - and 75% of illness treated in some parts of Sudan were due to bad drinking water.

Eric Green is an American who goes to Sudan to drill water wells and try to do his part in changing this.

Eric Green:
I started going to Sudan a few years ago with an organisation - Safe Harbour International Relief.

On one of the teams I asked the doctor - I said, what's the greatest need that we have here - and he said, by far its water.

He said three-quarters of all the illnesses that he was treating at the clinic were directly related to bad water.

It was crazy - when were up in the Nuba mountains and we saw these people - the water source where all the people in the village were getting their water was from these mud puddles that the cows were drinking out of and they had the glaze like when we get the little oil residue on the top of the water from our automobiles

They had that same kind of glaze on top of the water. And these people wouldn't think anything of just reaching in with a cup and drinking the water straight from there.

And there are all kinds of water-borne diseases in this water and that's all they have. So it was an absolutely horrible situation.

I also learned that the Trikana tribe in northern Kenya don't ever take showers because there's just not the water to have accessible.

So they really don't bathe or anything, which is very bad health-wise.

They would love to have dam built in southern Sudan. If they had a dam they could increase the crop productivity - the soil is very good but we have no water to do the things that would need it.

So maybe with a few dam projects, or things like that, they could get the food and the crops and there wouldn't be the starvation issues that are always coming up in Africa right now.

Zeinab Badawi:
In Iraq - access to water and power has been an issue long before the recent war. It is one of the key issues for the new administration.

Hanaa Ahmad Ali - who lives in South-west Baghdad with her four children and her husband who was an army officer under Saddam Hussein.

She explains what the situation is like for ordinary Iraqis.

Hanaa Ahmad Ali:
Since the beginning of the war we have started to suffer from the shortage of electricity and water.

Although there was some shortage during the previous regime, now we are suffering for a long time.

Sometimes we don't have electricity or water for a whole day.

Zeinab Badawi:
Its not just impoverished countries who experience problems with their water supply.

Uruguay has traditionally been one of the better off countries in South America, but residents there are battling to maintain control of the water distribution network.

Victor Nelson:
Hi, my name is Vic Nelson. I'm from Montevideo, Uruguay.

Uruguay sits on top of one of the biggest Aquifers in the world, called the Guaraní.

And there have been moves by the government to privatise the distribution of water.

In response to that - at the instigation of the water-worker's union - they have created what is called "The National Commission in Defence of Water and Life".

And they are collecting signatures for a national referendum.

The minimum number of signatures they need to force a referendum is 250,000 and they have already collected 220,000 which shows that the population is interested in the problem.

There has been a tremendous campaign in the media, but also they already have experience in a coastal town, Maldonado.

The distribution of the water there was a disaster.

Prices shot up, during the summer months water was scarce, and given this experience people are beginning to see that water is a vital element and it should remain in the hands of the state, which after all means it remains in the hands of the people.

Zeinab Badawi:
But despite support for the petition, Victor says that the government may be forced to accept contracts from foreign companies because of the financial crisis in Uruguay.

Victor Nelson:
Well there are two ways to see this.

One is that I'm pretty sure that the government in the middle of a financial crisis will be tempted to accept whatever offer they receive.

But on the other hand, the experience in Uruguay is that referendums have to be obeyed by the government.

So if, as I think, the required number of signatures is collected and the referendum is won, I am pretty sure that they will have to listen.

Remember also that certain sectors of Uruguayan society are very much against this privatisation - amongst them the Armed Forces.

And the people want to keep the water in the hands of the state because they have realised that it is a vital element.

Uruguay is mainly an agricultural country. Water is very important. Therefore they want to keep control of that element in their hands for the future generations.

Zeinab Badawi:
That's how they are coping in Uruguay.

Over at the other side of the world now in Australia, we hear from one person who's life depends on there being enough rain.

It's a common enough story for many people in that continent.

Dominick Reyntiens:
My name is Dominick Reyntiens and I live on the east coast of Australia in a place called Byron Bay.

I live actually in the hills behind Byron Bay and we're totally dependent on rainwater where we live.

We don't have any town water supplied to us so we have what we have collect in our rainwater tanks.

So it's really quite important and we think about it a lot even though we're in a high rainfall area and water shortages aren't a huge issue.

But the interesting thing is two hours up the coast, I've got relatives where the geography is changed and water is a big issue for them.

If they actually relied on rainwater all the time, they'd be in a lot of trouble.

They need the town to supply it to them - pump it up to them.

Zeinab Badawi:
Dominick voices what all the people who have shared their experiences with us believe.

Wherever you live in the world, dry or wet, poor or rich, access to clean water is paramount.

Here's Dominick again.

Dominick Reyntiens:
One of the things that I always thought in this debate is that water just doesn't know any boundaries - it doesn't obey boundaries - it doesn't sit in one country.

A river starts in one country, flows through another and exits into the sea in another country.

Water tables stretch between territories like they do in Israel and some people can afford to pump the water table up.

Some people can't and those people could be really close to each other and they can see - wait a minute, these guys have got water, they're pumping it out of the ground - we can't pump it out the ground and here we are, we're dying for the lack of this liquid.

And the other thing is, we talk about it as resource commodity but it's not, it's an absolute necessity - we need it to live.

No water - you die.

If you look at all the desert regions of the world, there are not many conurbations in them because there is no water.

If you look at every city in the world and it's built on a river. We need to live, to transport - it's everything to us - without it we're dead.



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