Water is so utterly fundamental to life that its availability or not has been the cause of the rise and fall of civilizations down the ages. When we really think about it our relationship with this precious commodity could easily generate no end of academic papers. Although water is so fundamental to life it still seems extraordinary that we often have a cavalier attitude to its conservation, management and to keeping it free from contaminants. Residents of the Horn of Africa and the Sahel are better placed than many to understand what an absolute blessing water is. The region’s pastoralists and semi-pastoralists spend much of their daily round in the quest for this life source for their goats, sheep, camels and cattle. The local oral history is rich with imagery concerning water and verdant pastures, as well as occasionally with tales of skirmishes concerning watering holes. Drought or the threat of drought is a perennial pre-occupation one that reminds us that access to water really is a matter of life and death.
Equally the spiritual connection with water is something we should not over look. The ablutions Muslims undertake prior to prayer are not mere habit, but a reaffirmation of faith and the desire to make clean in every way. Ritual cleansing reminds the faithful that what ever out lot in life it is important to approach the sacred with reverence and sincerity. Just as we must endeavour to be clean in body, we must endeavour to be pure of heart and soul and strive to be free of blemishes and imperfections in conduct and character.
Modern science tells us that access to clean water is important to health. Sadly, urban dwellers take such accessibility for granted, yet in truth each of us needs to cherish water much more than we do. Most of us rarely give thought to where our water comes from and we just assume that it will always be available. As we have moved into towns and cities we have forgotten the fundamentals of water conservation, and appear to know little about the connection between trees and vegetation and the slow runoff that helps mitigate flood damage. What is a blessing has become a mere utility, something that we know little of and appear to deem commonplace. Few citizens trouble themselves that historic cisterns have silted up, fallen into disrepair or have run dry. Barely a thought is given to replenishing aquifers or ensuring water capture in times of flood. Buildings are constructed without rainwater harvesting features and the planting of trees and vegetation (so vital in the creation of micro-climates) is invariably haphazard or non-existent. Our ambivalence toward this issue should be a matter of real concern, especially as water on planet earth is a finite resource and yet each year there are more and more of us consuming it. Countries such as Somalia have a rich knowledge of water conservation that if we are not careful will be lost within a generation or so. The ceel (hand dug wells), berkad (concrete-lined reservoir), mugsid (underground reservoirs) and deshek (flood-diversion techniques used to deliver flood water for irrigation) are essential to the country’s prosperity and well-being. Water security is integral to political stability. None of us can afford to ignore this issue. Hard pressed ministries need to redouble their efforts to ensure that there is far greater awareness and ownership of this issue. Drought prevention measures do not just happen, there has to be an ongoing campaign to ensure that land degradation, especially concerning the cutting down of trees and vegetation is reversed. Fresh bunds both of the semicircular and trapezoidal variety need to be constructed to capture runoff rainwater. With improved water harvesting comes potential improvements in soil fertility and this in turn can help stop soil erosion. A greater awareness of water conservation can be truly transformative in nature.
As for urban dwellers we too need to develop a healthier respect for water. Many people are rightly concerned about the price they are paying to access clean water and there is already a body of evidence emerging that makes clear that many of the poorest in society are suffering due to their inability to access or afford water. As our towns and cities grow we must give far greater thought to planning with water and water conservation in mind. Rubbish, refuse and the detritus of human living is currently being allowed to clog up streets, wasteland, dried river beds and ultimately will find its way into watercourses, the seas and even into the food chain itself. Governments, municipalities and civil society groups must be much more proactive in this regard. None of us want to inhabit a land awash with abandoned plastic bottles and bedecked with cardboard and plastic bags. Each of us must play our part and take responsibility for our actions and for the environment. As for the rubbish itself, well recycling is real business opportunity for some enterprising individual.
During my recent visit to Somalia I had the opportunity to visit the Farjano Water Bottling Plant in Garowe, Puntland State. There I was able to witness those meeting a fundamental need using state of the art machinery and processes. Contrary to what many outside the region might believe, here was an example of a functioning and highly success business in action, proof if needed that Somalis are more than capable of delivering when they set their mind to it. Water is fundamental to all of us, and the people of the Horn of Africa know better than most just how precious a resource it is. Those who are truly committed to peace and development would do well to work tirelessly to address the issue of water security, for in so doing they will have a far better chance of affecting a positive change for this and subsequent generations.
Mark T Jones
International Speaker & Leadership Specialist