Why Waste Water?
The 4th reflection of the Lenten Campaign: Seven Weeks for Water 2017 of the Word Council of Churches’ (WCC) Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) is by Prof. Jesse N.K. Mugambi, PhD, FKNAS, EBS.
Prof. Mugambi teaches at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He is also a Member of the Working Group on Climate Change and is an active member of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network.
In the following reflection, he meditates on the theme of the World Water Day 2017: “Wastewater”. He asks, “why waste water?” Then he goes on to reflect on the African context: how we can reduce, reuse and recycle fresh water for our consumption. A frugal lifestyle when it comes to water use is the way to go for Prof. Mugambi.
Why Waste Water?
By Prof. Jesse N.K. Mugambi
I was told by the Coordinator of the Ecumenical Water Network that my reflection will be published around the time of World Water Day (22 March). So I chose to focus my reflection around the theme of the World Water Day - “Why Waste Water?” This question is heavily loaded, with at least two meanings.
1. Fresh water must not be wasted
In the first meaning, the emphasis is on the word “waste” as a verb. In this usage, the theme “Why Waste Water” emphasizes that we as humans are irresponsible when we use fresh water irresponsibly - when we use more than we need. It echoes the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi, that, “The world has enough for everyone's needs, but not everyone's greed".
This theme reminds us to use fresh water responsibly, to meet basic needs, but not for excessive luxuries. Certainly, the definition of needs and wants is relative, from culture to culture and from one ecological zone to another. Yet the theme remains valid, irrespective of the nation, culture, race class, gender, age or religion to which we may belong.
Yet this 2017 Theme urges all of us to be conscious of the fact that fresh water is a necessity for life, and must be used responsibly, taking into consideration that there are many people whose lives are at risk because of a lack of adequate fresh water. As we celebrate the 2017 World Water Day focusing on the theme “Why Waste Water?” it is important to appreciate that millions of people in the Sahel Zone of Africa (including eastern Africa) have hardly any water to drink owing to the 2017 La Nina Drought. How can these people celebrate the 2017 World Water Day? They pray for drops of rain to quench their thirst and that of their livestock. For them the 2017 World Water Day, is a day of prayer for drops of rain, for there are no drops to reduce, re-cycle, or re-use.
2. Waste water must be treated and used again for suitable purposes
In most homes and industries fresh water, after use, becomes wastewater, as effluent or sewage. In both these forms, water becomes a hazard, rather than an asset. Fresh water is very unevenly distributed on planet earth, with the temperate and polar regions having much more of it than the tropical and equatorial zones. Evaporation is much higher in the latter than in the former. At the same time, domestic sewage (domestic water waste) and industrial effluent (industrial water waste) are more hazardous in the tropics than in the temperate and arctic ecological zones. Yet the cost of treating water waste is much higher in the equatorial and tropical zones than in the temperate and polar zones.
The great challenge is how to reduce the cost of treating wastewater, especially in the Equatorial and Tropical zones. The nations and peoples of these regions have the lowest incomes per capita, but their cost of “reduce, recycle and reuse” is highest. If the cost of treating wastewater exceeds the benefit, there must be other justifications for such expenditure. Under such circumstances, reducing the use of fresh water to the bare minimum is a prudent policy.
3. Responsible consumption of Fresh Water
According to the World Health Organization, the bare minimum daily fresh and clean water requirement per person is 20 litres. If this standard is used, it follows that any person who uses more than this amount enjoys some luxury. Frugal living is a worthwhile thought as we celebrate this 2017 World Water Day when the Tropical Zone is suffering another seasonal cycle of prolonged and severe drought. On the contrary, some of the developed countries use about 100 gallons or 380 litres of water a person per day.
4. Responsible management of Waste Water
The waste water coming out of our digestive, domestic, industrial, agricultural, sporting and luxury activities has become a global hazard of unprecedented proportions. The worst manifestations of this hazard are in the informal settlements within and around cities across the whole world. There are ways and means for reducing the use of fresh water, and also for reducing wastewater that ends up in the sewerage ponds; in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans. The commitment for this course of action is a matter of Applied Ethics, much more than a technological challenge.
5. Why waste water?
So we return to the theme of 2017 World Water Day. Why Waste Fresh Water? We have no excuse for wasting fresh water, whoever we happen to be, and whatever we happen to be. If we have access to plenty of fresh water, that abundance must not be an excuse for us to squander fresh water, while the majority of humankind hardly has access to the bare minimum for survival. If we have the minimum, we thank God that we can survive, and must look forward to the day that we shall have more. At the same time, all of us must commit ourselves to reduce waste water, by recycling the amounts that come out of our digestive, domestic, industrial, agricultural and luxury activities.
6. Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities
The Earth Charter launched at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 provides a set of principles to guide this discourse. Within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this set of principles has been summarized as Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC). Those who pollute more should also spend more to clean up the mess they cause on the local, national, regional, continental and global environment. This principle is applicable to air pollution, but also to water pollution – and other kinds that make this planet increasingly less habitable. Jesus reminds us: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12: 48 NRSV).