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$20 Bottled Water and the Two-Hour Trek

September 2, 2013

“See the blue pools in the squinting sun
Hear the hissing of summer lawns”
– Joni Mitchell
from The Hissing of Summer Lawns

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Letebrehan Gerezgiher lives in Maytsada, a small village in Ethiopia. Before Water.org helped out, she traveled up to two hours a day to fetch water.

Each year, approximately 3.4 million people, about equal to the population of the city of Los Angeles, die worldwide due to water-related diseases, including one child every twenty one seconds.  That means ten children may die because they don’t have access to clean water by the time you finish reading this post.  According to the World Health Organization, ten percent of global disease could be prevented with improved water management systems.  One in nine people, 780 million, don’t have access to clean water.  If interested, you can learn more about it from Water.org, a group co-founded by actor Matt Damon that has been diligently working on these matters for more than twenty years.  Louisa May Alcatt, delivers cattitude for the women’s movement in her blog, Suffragette Kitty, and takes on the particular burden placed  on women by the lack of this basic necessity in this clean water piece here.  Women spend two hundred million hours a day collecting water.

Of course, we have different water issues in America.  Out here in California, the perennial questions revolve around the amount of winter rain and snowpack, storage, water rights and the infrastructure.  Generally, we’re trying to get water from the north to the south.  Chinatown, a 1974 film starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, captures some of the intrigue of the early reaches for control over this precious resource.  We’re still trying to figure it out and it’s no small feat.  Jerry Brown has an ambitious plan to fix it, but like all things in Sacramento, the political battles are near impossible.  But if anyone can manage through the place, Jerry can.

But of course, the problems that we are trying to solve bear little or no relation to those that Water.org is concerned about.  The sprinklers are still on timers, cars are washed and kept showroom clean, and the swimming pools are up and running.  Just like the rest of the country, at least until the summer droughts come and the reservoirs have been drained, we turn on the tap and let it flow.  When supplies are low, the recommended shower length is less than five minutes.  Heck, it takes more than half that amount of time just to get the temperature right.  But that shower uses more water than an average person in a developing person uses in an entire day.

And now, some people in Los Angeles have found a solution to a water problem that will just never exist in most of the world.  They must live in an alternate universe.  No longer is the inane and dreadful inquiry “sparkling or still” adequate for a restaurant down there.  No, these people have created a menu with more than forty pages to describe the long list of water that they will sell you.  They ship it in from around the world and you can then decide from there.  How to know which of these waters will complement your food the best?  Don’t worry, they’ve put it all there in the menu and have a “certified water specialist” on staff to see you through it.  Enter into their world and these folks will teach you all about it so that you don’t have to be the unwashed bumpkin anymore.  No, you too can be sophisticated and discerning about such things.

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Here in the Western Hemisphere, Water.org helps Haiti address its severe water system problems.

Their menu includes bottles of water from ten countries, with a description of their origin and qualities.  Here’s an excerpt from one, to give you an idea where these people are coming from:  “The cylindrical packaging, famously designed by Neil Kraft (formerly chief design artist for Calvin Klein), added a premium element to the water market in the United States which set the stage for water to be seen as more than just a beverage, and to become the lifestyle choice that it is today.”  Here’s how they describe 90H20 (a little hometown pride), the water that they bottle themselves, “To add to the ethos of designer water, 9OH2O is batch produced in limited editions of 10,000 individually numbered diamond-like glass bottles.”

Still not convinced that this is for you?  Maybe you’ll feel more emboldened by the Leonardo De Vinci or Wallace Stevens quotes that they include on the menu.  If you have not already heard about this, you might wonder if I am making this up.  Indeed, it all sounds like a satire.  An Onion article perhaps.  But it’s not.  Without any hint of irony or shame, these folks put all of this out there on the worldwide web for all of us to see.  Their endeavor is enterprising in a most modern way.

All of it simply reminds me just how special the work is that the good folks over at water.org perform.  Those are the people who deserve our attention, applause and support.

Your top soil flies away Ethiopia
We pump ours full of poison spray Ethiopia
Between the brown skies and sprinkling lawns
I hear the whine of chain saws
hacking rain forests down
On and on insanities
On and on Short sighted greed abounds
Ethiopia Ethiopia Ethiopia

– Joni Mitchell
from Ethiopia on the album Dog Eat Dog

2 Comments
  1. Hi Bruce, beyond being touched by inclusion in such a thought-provoking, beautifully written piece, I am so grateful that you are spreading the word of water.org. In did not know about 90h20, etc., but I should not be surprised by the growing divide between the ladies who lunch and those who walk miles for a few gallons of clean water.

    With your permission, may I reblog this? xo, LMA

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