“Water, water, everywhere …..”


A strange thing to say, you may think, given that I am living on a lush green island after all. But how many of us take that precious commodity for granted? I know when I’m in London, if I need water I just turn on the tap without giving it a second thought. It’s there ‘on tap’ quite literally 24/7. I’ve certainly never (I’m ashamed to admit) realised how fortunate I am or even considered where it comes from, where it goes or even if it’s safe to drink (because I know it is). It’s just there….

It’s only when there suddenly isn’t any that it becomes an issue and, as the following statistics  (© World Bank) show, water isn’t just there, for a huge proportion of those whom we share this planet with.

You may be as surprised as I was learning some of these facts:

© World Bank
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The UN suggests that each person needs 20-50 litres of safe freshwater a day to ensure their basic needs for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Source: World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP)More than one in six people worldwide – 894 million – don’t have access to this amount of safe freshwater.
Source: World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme on Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP)

Globally, diarrhoea is the leading cause of illness and death, and 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths are due to a lack of access to sanitation facilities, together with inadequate availability of water for hygiene and unsafe drinking water.
Source: JMP

Today 2.5 billion people, including almost one billion children, live without even basic sanitation. Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That’s 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.
Source: Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC)

In Sub-Saharan Africa, treating diarrhoea consumes 12 percent of the health budget. On a typical day, more than half the hospital beds in are occupied by patients suffering from faecal-related disease.
Source: WSSCC

Washing hands with soap can reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by up to 47 per cent.
Source: WHO

The first ever global handwashing day was celebrated on 15 October during the International Year of Sanitation.

It’s important to keep everything in perspective of course. Compared to what’s happening in some totally devastated areas of the world, such as:

Kenya: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AF5iLICrTK4)

China: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1o9QUMMFBg) and

Australia: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8R7WxjlLF8)

the ‘drought’ in Skiathos barely warrants a mention:

But as I am writing about this island, I thought you may also be interested to know how the global shortage is having an effect (albeit minor by comparison!) on this little corner of Greece too.

Both in and out of town, most people rely on natural spring outlets or they have taken a license and drilled bole holes on their property to reach deep underground springs… Alternatively, as in my case and that of many of the older villas here, some rely primarily on rain water, collected (usually from flat roofs and terraces) and stored in a holding tank (a ‘sterna’) from where it is then pumped up to a water tank, for daily household use.
Last year Skiathos, like much of the rest of Europe, suffered a severe drought. There simply wasn’t sufficient rainfall to replenish the natural springs above or deep below ground or to fill the sternas and, worryingly, highly toxic deposits such as mercury began to leach out of the earth into the island’s rapidly decreasing water supply. A complete ban on using spring water was imposed for a time and the supermarkets supplying mineral water in plastic bottles could barely cope with the extra demand by both humans and for livestock. Of course the plants suffered too and by July even the lush natural forests and verdant meadows of the island had lost their customary ‘greenness’ and began to turn brown.

Thankfully this past winter there has been plenty of rain, spring water has been given the all-clear (a meeting, chaired by the Mayor was held on the Bourtzi last Sunday to confirm it) and everyone is more or less back to ‘normal’ – everyone except me that is!

Now natural Skiathos spring water is heavy in iron anyway but both my bore holes were producing nothing but a bright red sludge. It became impossible to use – whites turned bright orange in the washing machine and sanitary ware became stained too. I say ‘both’ but only one bore-hole was semi use-able anyway. One well had been drilled too deep, below the water table (and had only ever produced salt (sea) water!) so we’d invested in a costly filtration system but even that eventually couldn’t cope with the demands placed on it, and the other well had virtually run dry. With our sterna water all but used-up too, we were becoming desperate, The garden was dying around us, (and not the most vital of issues, I know, but the new pool was a permanent shade of green/black) and I couldn’t even wash a dish (let alone myself ) and feel clean! (several people had commented on my ‘golden tan’ – little did they know!)

So last week our dear electrician friend Costas (Zembekis) took apart the whole system. He raised the pump in the salty well, lowered the one in the original well and Hey Presto! Clean, sweet water gushed forth from both! I feel re-born! Most evening are now spent watering the garden profusely and the grateful plants are already responding well…and bursting into fragrant bloom! (and I’m feeling pretty fragrant myself again too!!)


I learned just today that a new and very substantial water source has been located on the island and, with the large financial investment required (yet another drain on the already severely limited Municipal funds) successfully secured, work will begin to contain and store it in the coming months. So it looks as though Skiathos will be able to enjoy plenty of good, clean water for the foreseeable future….and with rain forecast for this coming weekend you may think we can now sit back and relax – but NO! we must ALL think again –  where-ever we are in the world. If we are one of the fortunate few to have ready access to a clean water supply it’s time to use it sparingly and responsibly. Remembering that old adage   ‘Waste Not – Want Not’ – has never been more vitally important than now

Water shortage and conservation is a serious global problem. Would you like to help?

DO YOU TWITTER? Why not get involved with the next Twestival ( find out more, locate your city and you can donate directly).
On 12 February 2009, 200+ international cities hosted a Twestival (Twitter + festival) to bring Twitter communities together to raise money for charity: water. The Twestival raised $250,000+ and brought worldwide public awareness to the global water crisis. On 11 April charity: water will drill the first Twestival well, posting videos of the progress.

Here are some excellent sites for further reading:

Syngenta global

digital poetry’s weblog

Hawaii – view some of the 3500 poster and over 200 poems that were entered in the Water Conservation Week 2009 competition


On a final note, I’ll leave you with ‘Drought’ by Vienna Teng, a remarkable song by a brilliant singer and composer: