Water politics: Taking the “road less travelled”

Canadian artist and thorn-in-the-flesh-of-everyone’s-conscience Bob Haverluck is leading the Arts of Water Project. It aims to persuade young and old to appreciate the wonder of fresh water abundance and to do something about the peril of its scarcity.

Haverluck has created a host of art forms and events, together with a series of postcards. With his distinctive graphic style, they are trenchantly critical of human greed and short-sightedness. Many of the cards carry quotations, such as this from the late Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement: “We are called to assist the earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder.”

I especially like the words of 19th century English poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, who had an eye for natural wonders:

“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wilderness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

And then there is Haverluck himself:

“And what if we are forgetful creatures, needful of community to help us remember who we really are? Maybe that is why some of us turn to daily rituals and communities which with stories, songs, rituals, teachings and dialogues, recall us to our honourable little place in the shared making and mending of all creation.”

The Pacific nation of Tuvalu recently declared a state of emergency over water shortage. It has not rained for more than six months, and there is no drinkable groundwater for a population of about 11,000 people because rising seas have contaminated it.

Tuvalu is a group of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific. It won independence from the United Kingdom in 1978. Five of the islands are coral atolls, the other four consist of land rising from the sea bed. No point on Tuvalu is higher than 4.5 metres above sea level. Local politicians have campaigned about the effects of global warming, arguing that climate change could see the islands swamped by rising sea levels.

Life on the islands is simple and often harsh. There are no streams or rivers, so collecting rainwater for drinking is essential. Coconut palms cover most of the islands, and copra – dried coconut kernel – is practically the only export. Increasing salination of the soil threatens traditional subsistence farming.

People are suffering – especially children. One solution appears to be migration, abandoning their homes and communities. Yet, lacking funds and social support, the poorest and most vulnerable people will find it impossible to move. In any case, where will they go? The nearest land masses are 1,000 miles away and might not take too kindly to an influx of 11,000 people. What nationality will they have? How will they survive? What will become of their culture and traditions? Anyway, who cares?

At the beginning of Chapter 17 of her book Silent Spring (1962), widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement, Rachel Carson offers a prescient warning that has been all but ignored:

“We stand now where two roads divide. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been travelling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one ‘less travelled by’ – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”

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One comment on “Water politics: Taking the “road less travelled”

  1. Randy says:

    Thanks for flagging the ‘water issue’ Philip. Well many of us land-locked polluters seem to be increaasingly aware of air and soil pollution, the real concern, in terms of both quantitative and qualiltative impact, is the pollution of our oceans, seas, and their contributory sources of water.

    Receiving quintessentialruminations is a wonderful kick start to my days!

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