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Water on the Brain

I was in the supermarket this morning (nothing unusual in that) and pushing my trolley to the checkout. Well, my wife was pushing and I was away in airy-fairy land when it suddenly dawned on me that I was walking past water. Not just any water but a whole world of the stuff. A complete representation of nations: a veritable United Nations of water in one aisle.

There, in your local Supermarket: Highland Spring Water all the way from Scotland or water drawn from the speckled valleys in the Black Mountains of the Canadian Rockies. Or you prefer Continental European? How about Spa Reine Water from Germany (hope it wasn’t a public Spa) or Vittel from the French Societe Generale des Eaux Minerales de Vittel, whatever that is. Even Australia is represented by Wattle Water – Pure Water from the Australian outback and complete with a sprinkling of dust. And from the Continent of Africa comes “Oasis Pure” shipped out from the Negrev by Camel Train. China and Japan had ambassadors at the Supermarket I attended and the pictures on the bottles looked great, but the price of $4.50 was pushing my ability to grasp the essentials behind buying water a bit far.

Yes, one can buy water from almost any place in the world right in your local shop. You can even get water from the Three Gorges Damn in China at your local Chinese Take-away, which is a bit weird as the damn is not ready for completion for another six years or so.

How true the advertising of water is can be anybody’s guess, but to me it seems a mite strange to ship small bottles of water half way across the world when a quite decent reservoir exists just up the road. I realize that in an effort to promote certain brands you can pay twice as much for water in a colorful green bottle or in a bottle shaped like a duck – but is it all so necessary. The cost of this water is outrageous yet nobody seems to realize what they are actually doing when they faithfully buy bottled water everyday of the week. The way I see it is that people are buying water that comes from the other side of the world and costs them money that could be otherwise spent. Why not just go to the tap as we used to do and use the water from there? If concerned boil it, let it cool and put it in the fridge for later. That is what we used to do until all of these fancy and expensive bottles came on the scene.

In an attempt to understand this bottled water phenomena I decided to put the words “bottled” and “water” into the search engine on my computer. The first entry that came up surprised me greatly. There is a whole association dedicated to bottled water; a whole business geared up to its welfare. I mean I can understand the International Association for Rail Workers or for Medical Supplies, but the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) shocked me to the core. After this surprise I noticed that the whole Industry is massive, that not only this association exists but so do hundreds of others! Wow!

Anyway, it matters not. Looking through the IBWA site for inspiration I came to their “tip of the week” page. And here is the tip that they had for this week:

“Cool water is absorbed much more quickly than warm fluids and may help to cool off your overheated body”. Source: Nutrition Information Center in partnership with IBWA

Handy stuff! I got another useful hint from some other association that told me to drink two glasses of water every morning to offset imperceptible water loss that I have had during the night. Excellent stuff. This “handy tip” was given out by a Dr Fereydon Batmanghelidj and he wrote a book called, “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water”. I doubt that it is fictional in content.

Must try and get hold of that book – only joking. Another piece that I found was Ed Ford’s views on the matter of water:

“Human beings were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another”.

I am completely stuck for something to say after reading that weird statement. I must move onto other things or I will end up trying to find this man to see if he is for real.

As a kid in Edinburgh (which is not that long ago) we always used to drink water from the tap. If you wanted a glass of water then go to the kitchen sink and open the cold tap, let it run for a few seconds, more to make it cold than to clear the line and then fill your glass. Final step: drink it. This was always the case and 99% of the population of Britain (one percent lived on whisky) lived quite happily in this way with no notable side-effects form the tap water. And then suddenly bottled water came on the scene and life changed without noticeable falter, now 100% of the population drink from bottles.

Edinburgh Water shocks a lot of people when they find out the cycle that it goes through before it arrives in the glass that they are busy drinking from. Recycled sewage water is the ingredient of the stuff now inside their stomachs at the point when they grasp what you are telling them. Edinburgh has for many years removed the dung from the sewage (this used to be shipped out to sea in a special ship called the Gardyloo), it is then treated and passed through charcoal beds and retreated and analyzed endlessly before it is sent back into the system. And believe it or not Edinburgh has some of the highest quality water in Europe – and it comes straight from the tap!

Countries like Taiwan, the Philippines to name but a few do need treated water as the quality available from the tap could kill at ten yards. Taiwan has an extremely efficient system going – just go outside of your house to any one of the many machines dotted along the streets and by putting in 5NTD (8 pence) you will get a few gallons of clean and drinkable water in return. Not that the tap water is that bad (some waste chemicals and untreated sewage have been diverted to another river) and a boil in the kettle does me perfectly if I am feeling lazy.

It seems to me as if the whole world is shifting water around constantly. Singapore is a good example of the state of water today. Singapore has to buy water from Malaysia to survive and without such the whole of the Singapore economy would grind to a halt. This water is actually under serious contention as Malaysia has been complaining that Singapore does not pay enough for the water they pump everyday.

The Malaysian state of Johor provides 350 million gallons of water per day to Singapore at $0.007 per 1000 gallons, while Singapore has to resell a minimum 17 million gallons per day of treated water to Johor at $0.13 per 1000 gallons. The price differential has prompted calls from numerous Malaysian politicians that Singapore is profiteering from the deal. It also rankles the Malaysians that the price paid was derived from an agreement made decades ago and is still due to run for another few (until 2061). In basis: they want more for the water and Singapore doesn’t want to pay. They are even threatening to go to war over this!

In an attempt by Singapore to reduce their reliance on Malaysia they have started a program to build recycling plants around the Island. Great idea –convert dirty water into drinking water – and although it will take many years before the balance changes it is a good start. I am not sure about their marketing campaign – you can buy this water from the chosen outlets and it is called “New Water”. Sounds like a religious order.

The worlds shifting of water (despite Ed Fords thinking that water made humans so that it can transport itself) is none greater than what is going on in China as we speak. The Three Gorges Dam! China’s largest project since the Great Wall of China: and one with greater impact on China and the rest of the world than any other project underway today.

Some facts about the Three Gorges project:

  • Project expected to take 17 years; completion expected in 2009.
  • An estimated 250,000 workers are involved in the project.
  • The Three Gorges Reservoir will inundate 632 square kilometers (395 square miles) of land.
  • An estimated 1.2 million people will be resettled by the dam.
  • The project's 26 hydropower turbines are expected to produce 18.2 million kilowatts, up to one-ninth of China's output.
  • The amount of concrete totals 26.43 million cubic meters, twice that of the Itaipu project in Brazil, currently the world's largest hydroelectric dam.

Source: Chinese government

Alongside of this massive shifting of natural resources we have the ice caps melting North and South of us, floods occurring worldwide where they should not and abnormal rainfalls flooding towns that usually do not see water for months on end. And of course the Meeting of Nations on the Supermarket shelves!

The world has water on the brain!

Just make sure that when you buy water from the supermarket that you try and miss out the “Clouds Recycled with Flouride” and the “Occaneechi Local Spa” and maybe go for the Deep Rock Crystal Drop and Whistlers Pure Glacial. It’s all in a name!

Submitted by:

Ieuan Dolby

Ieuan Dolby, from Scotland is an Engineering Officer in the Merchant Navy. He has been travelling the world for 15yrs on an endless tour of cultural diversification. Currently based in Singapore he writes various articles for magazines and newspapers and is working on a marine glossary.ieuandolby@lycos.com





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