March 22, 2012

Water and Food Security is the message of this year’s World Water Day

Today is the World Water Day. Every year, the 22nd of March is marked as the special day that focuses on the blessings of water as our live giving elixir; the use and misuse of it; and on how we can be more responsible in managing this finite resource.

For many who may not know, close to two-thirds of our body is made up of water, and that is why we have to keep on drinking so much of it to keep our bodies in good working condition and for us to feel alive and well. But drinking contaminated water will make us sick. In the Maldives of our past, we drank our water from the wells in our homes or brought in from those located in our mosque premises. And perhaps many of us have forgotten that before we began using the water closet, those of us who didn’t want to trek to the beach, used a special enclosed area in our yard for burying our human wastes (gifili) in close proximity to our wells. Uninformed as we were during those early days on how our porous coral soil could easily drain the germs from the waste into our wells, we consumed the water just because it seemed clear to the look. And so, given this practice of those days, the leading illnesses for both children and adults were diarrhea and intestinal parasites that drained much of the meager nutrition we put into our bodies. Such being the case, Maldivians of those days, could not grow in height to their full potential due to the many bouts of these childhood diarrheas and so when the natural growth spurt stopped, we were a few inches shorter than what we could have been. That explains why we were much shorter then.

Our cholera epidemic of 1978 was a turning point in this national habit. From then on, with huge efforts by our health sector, in chlorinating our water wells and helping everyone with collecting rain water, our habit completely transformed to using rain water for drinking. The result was a dramatic decline in the rates of diarrhea in children and consequently there was a drastic reduction in the numbers of our babies dying before the age of one. This was a very notable achievement in the health of all Maldivians -- achieved just by the simple life style change of drinking rainwater. So now we see our Maldivian youth, on an average a few inches taller than their parents and much more than their grandparents. Of course this was the result of the availability of more food on the table also. Whereas about a generation ago, our normal breakfast in our islands would be just a thuni-roshi and a cup of black tea, now we have a better balanced breakfast and even get to eat more variety due to our increased affluence.

Clean water plays a big part in the preparation of food too. Salads and vegetables washed with contaminated waster will make us sick. Or cool drinks made with such water and contaminated ice cubes can also make us sick. From a food security point of view, food can be contaminated by pesticides also and that can be dangerous to our bodies, the short and long term effects of which can be life threatening. In larger countries where agriculture is a prime vocation, lack of water can also result in food insecurity because enough water is not available for agriculture and less food can be grown and thus less availability due to low supply or high food costs.

In Maldives, our water can also get contaminated with the pesticides and fertilizers we use in agriculture and by the chemicals we drain into our soil with our domestic and industrial effluent and from the stuff we throw away into our dumps such as left over pharmaceuticals, batteries, used machinery, e-waste and the like. In Maldives, as we all by now know, our available water is confined to a lens of fresh water in the ground and this is easily contaminated from the seepage from these above substances. So very responsible care is needed in disposing such wastes because the risk of water contamination is always there and that risk could easily find its way into our bodies. In the case of fertilizers, it is certainly better even from a carbon foot-print point of view to use natural fertilizers such as the compost that we can prepare even by ourselves.

Being aware of these important facts can be the message of today.

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