Rant: Water and Other Scarce Resources

Semester at Sea offers some truly innovative courses that mobilise the many young driven students on board to become change-agents in their lives and professions. (Change-agent, by the way, is a concept taught in one of the classes I’m doing online for back home. How’s that for integration of knowledge. I digress.)

At the beginning of this voyage, one such class is presented with the following assignment: The M/V Explorer, our home and campus, is surrounded by a vast body of water. But we cannot drink this water, and so, as we are sailing on our voyage around the world, we have a finite supply of water. Some countries (Japan, Singapore) can replenish our stocks. Others (China, Vietnam) cannot. Devise strategies to encourage responsible water usage among voyagers. [ad lib]

For about a week, the shipboard community was inundated with these strategies.

Here, pledge to cut your shower by one minute (my five-minute shower went to four, my friend’s thirty-minute shower went to twenty-nine).

Here, look at this picture of a poor thirsty child in Afri-cuh. Doesn’t that make you think twice about wasting water?

But then we had a question-answer session with the Captain. And as it turns out, we won’t go thirsty. The high costs of this program gives us access to desalination technology – taking salt and other undesirables from the ocean water and making it drinkable. A process that requires extreme amounts of energy and money, might I add, which is why water-hungry countries can’t just employ it. And so, overnight, water-saving campaigns were no more.

Is that not pathognomonic of selfish desires? It was okay to manipulate each other with the plight of those who deal with water shortage every day of their lives when it would prevent us from having the same fate. But now that we are okay, we forget their realities. We sail the world, but are we truly one with the globe of which we profess to be citizens? We share the same atmosphere. The same air. The same earth and oceans. Do we really think that we can be unaffected by another’s problems? Do we think that we truly have water-security when others do not? Do we think that the outward spread of waterborne disease will not affect us? Do we think that we are only affected by these problems when we choose to travel to these countries? When one suffers, we all suffer – when will humanity finally learn that?

On the Mekong Delta, we exclaim, “I’m really learning to appreciate clean running water. How awful having to purchase water and not just drink from a tap.”

But does that appreciation drive us to find solutions to these problems far-from-home, or does it simply make us stick our heads under the tap and guzzle appreciatively at the clean water onboard?

I saw children dying of preventable disease in a recent port (more on that later) and I learned to appreciate even the few resources we have in South African healthcare. But will my shock translate into working for change in international policy, or simply into me doing my work with a less-grudging attitude? I hope it will be the former.

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