World Water Day- What If You Didn’t Have Water?!?
World Water Day is Tuesday March 22. Designated by the United Nations, it’s a day to learn about water-related issues. Each year has a theme, this year its ‘Water & Jobs’. “The theme highlights how both water and jobs have the power to transform people’s lives. Water is central to human survival; while the environment, the economy, and decent work can provide income and pave the way for broader social advancements”, says the International Labour Organization (ILO).
While thinking about this year’s theme I thought “Hey – I have a water job. They’re talking about me too.” Actually, many people around the world rely on water for some part of their job. Whether it’s depending on rain in the summer to bring our crops to life, or simply just drinking water from the tap on a hot work day, “Almost half of the world’s workers – 1.5 billion people – work in water-related sectors”, says the ILO. Around Alberta there’s the industrial plant, or oil and gas processing that relies on a steady supply of water. There are large livestock and poultry operations that require adequate water for their animals. And of course there are people with “water” in their job title – like water treatment operators, or people like me at Alberta Environment. So, this issue of ‘Water & Jobs’ can hit close to home. If water is abundant, the economy can prosper. When it’s absent there are wide reaching impacts. Think of last summer when many places across Alberta experienced drought. Or think of California’s drought and the impact to our food supply. Did you hear about cauliflower being sold for $10 a head?!?
Our local issues come to mind easily, but I had to remind myself that World Water Day helps us think about others around the Globe. Many of which struggle with more dire water circumstances. Like the girl in East-Africa who walks hours each day to gather water. This girl doesn’t get paid for her ‘job’, but it’s still part of the Water Day theme. Then there’s a more traditional water-related job: agriculture. It’s a consistent element across every country in the world, and more than 95% of agriculture jobs rely heavily on water.
So what’s the difference between Canada and places like East-Africa? I’m sure farmers in any country look to the sky and pray for rain and abundant harvest. The difference comes when people are struggling to survive. If the rain doesn’t come, they have no irrigation options and their kids may starve. Impoverished economies don’t have much insulation from major disasters like a drought. When a disaster strikes, some communities can be utterly crippled. While some are more resilient. ‘Resiliency’ is the ability to function even after a huge shock disrupts our normal way of life. In Alberta, a disaster may strike (i.e., hail, drought, or flood), but we often have ‘back-up’ plans. Insurance, or disaster assistant from the government. But, even before disaster strikes we can make plans to protect ourselves. Think about having resources to build large dams that hold back water in the spring, and release it in late summer when everything is dry. We have many, many more choices. We can choose to have back-up plans, or choose options that will offer some protection.
In 2011, my wife and I were in East-Africa when a terrible drought broke out, which led to the Horn of Africa famine. Fragile hopes and dreams of local people were shattered. It was a humanitarian crisis. Millions of people were forced to leave their homes, forced to leave their parched land and dying cattle. We heard many stories of people walking for days to reach water – often with some perishing along the way. These people, like many in the world, don’t have insurance, their government can’t offer disaster assistance, and they don’t have a back-up plan or any safety nets. All they can hope for is assistance from the UN and international donors. Can you image that happening to us? Abandoning our land – not selling it – and walking with our neighbours for days to find food, shelter, water. Unthinkable.
So on World Water Day, think about the unthinkable. These tragedies are often happening. Those farmers on the other side of the world may look a bit different, but God made them just like us. And we all wait for rain. Think about them on March 22. Think about them this summer. Because we’re all dependent on God to provide the precious gift of water.
“He turned the desert into pools of water
and the parched ground into flowing springs;
there he brought the hungry to live,
and they founded a city where they could settle.
They sowed fields and planted vineyards
that yielded a fruitful harvest;
he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,
and he did not let their herds diminish.” -Psalm 108:33-38