Water – cool, clear water

For the past couple of years or so, I have been annoying my family with my incessant badgering about saving water. Our poor 4 year old daughter has only to leave a tap running for 2 seconds longer than is necessary and she gets a stern word. I berate my 74 year old mother for bathing instead of showering and God help anyone who waters their garden. If you are even moderately observant you too would have predicted our current water crisis many months ago. That is because you will have observed that there hasn’t been much water coming out of the sky.

However, until very recently our media – and for the purposes of this statement I include myself in this – has been relatively quiet on this impending national disaster. We have been so obsessed with the power crisis that we have failed to notice a much bigger crisis creeping up on us like the grim reaper. This is odd because life can be sustained without power. It cannot be sustained without water.

Malcolm Muggeridge famously said: “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.” What are some of the messages from our current water crisis?

Certainly we must urgently work together to save water, but why do we only save water when there is a crisis? We have become so technologically advanced that we are blinded to what we actually need to stay alive on earth. Does this water crisis not demand of us that we begin to view the world differently? Does it not demand that we begin to cherish that which we discard with such ease? Does it not teach us to educate our children about the value of our natural resources – in times of both lack and plenty?

However, our immediate reaction to crises is a dangerous one; we steadfastly refuse to learn the truths in the parable preferring rather to blame others for the lack. Right now, local municipalities are the preferred whipping-boy for their tardy responses to our leaking pipes. We conveniently forget that we have all been indiscriminately wasting water for years – decades even. Now all of a sudden we get uppity about leaking pipes. And let’s be honest, when people are dying of thirst; when animals are so depleted by a lack of water that they can no longer walk and die stuck in the muddy remnants of a river, it isn’t particularly helpful to know whose fault it is. The only thing that matters is that we work together to save every last drop.

The other lesson this drought must teach us is that however advanced we may have become, we are inextricably linked to the earth. We do not exist apart from it. We are indeed, one. We seem only to truly internalise this fact when – having pillaged our planet – we are faced with the realities of hunger or thirst.

By now you will have read many ideas of how you can save water and I hope that we are actioning them all. However, I want to suggest that we do something a little different as citizens; something that allows us to truly identify with this drought. You may remember a very impactful campaign run by World Vision called The 40 Hour Famine. Members of the public were invited to fast for 40 hours in order to experience what it felt like to go hungry. People would sponsor the participants and money was raised for victims of famine across Africa. It was incredibly successful.

I want to suggest that we undertake a similar campaign called A Day without Water. For 24 hours we shall pretend that we have no access to water (in taps, pools etc). We will have to make preparations to store enough water for drinking and cooking; we will go without baths and showers; we won’t swim. We will live as if water has run out and all that is left is that which we have stored. This will give us some sense of the life that so many people across our country are currently living.

Then, I invite you to get people to sponsor you for each hour that you go without water. As an NGO we have identified an ingenious solution to the drought in rural areas:  PlayPumps – water pumps that are connected to children’s merry-go-rounds. As the kids play, water is pumped out of the ground for the local community. Help us to raise funds to get as many of these installed in needy areas as possible.

A Day without Water will run from 18:00 on Friday 4th December to 18:00 on Saturday 5th. Please spread the word. Get your companies, schools and places of worship involved; get social and other media on board. You can e-mail me on justin@peaceagency.org.za for bank details and if you have ideas and suggestions that can enhance the campaign.

Let’s make this a national, annual event. Then we will truly have got the message from the parable of our water crisis.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.

This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.