Sunday, 26 November 2017

Water. A few thoughts.

At the end of the summer I was asked to write a short article for our church magazine about water. This is not, as I say in it, in any way an academic paper, and all the statistics in it can be easily found on-line, if you have time to look. But I do think that these points are worth sharing more widely, so here they are.

Water is one main theme for St John’s during 2017. Water is our principal focus during Creationtide. So the Editor has asked me to write an article on the subject. I am not going to attempt anything lyrical or passionate on the subject. This has often been done by others, much better than I could do. Instead here are various facts. This is not a scientific paper, nor am I an expert, but as far as I can find out, these facts are accurate. I hope they will provide a stimulus for thought, a stimulus for prayer, a stimulus for conversation, and a stimulus for action.

The human body is about 60% water. The bones lower the average, of course. The brain and the heart are well over 70% water.

The dreadful floods in Texas and neighbouring states, caused by Storm Harvey have been fully reported. At the time of writing (August 31st) 33 people have been killed and about 100,000 homes have been affected. Also during August there has been severe flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. These floods have killed about 1,200 people and left millions homeless. Many have been killed in mudslides. Niger is affected by severe flooding every rainy season. This summer has been no exception. Between 40 and 50 people are reported killed and thousands have been made homeless.

Our planet is as likely to be affected by drought. That strange phenomenon El Nino has made drought conditions worse than usual in many parts of the world in the last couple of years. The countries of Southern and Eastern Africa have been worst affected. In an article for the “Guardian” in March Lucy Lamble reported: “More than 20 million people in four countries are at risk of starvation according to the UN, making this the biggest crisis facing the world since 1945.” Oxfam describes the drought in Eastern Kenya and Southern Somalia as the worst in living memory. USAID, the US Government’s agency in this field, reckons that food insecurity caused by El Nino will continue in Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe till some time in 2018. Prosperous countries are, of course, better able to mitigate the effects of drought, but climate knows no frontiers. Parts of the state of Montana are experiencing exceptional drought as I write.

The relationship between drought and migration is extremely complex and is the subject right now of much academic study and debate. It would be inappropriate for me to pronounce definitively on the subject in an article such as this. Suffice it to say that there clearly is a connection. In September 2015 “Time” magazine carried an article headed: “How climate change is behind the surge of migrants to Europe.” According to the UNHCR there are some 65.6 million displaced people around the world. The number drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the first half of this year was over 2,000.

The pollution of water is a vast subject on its own. According to the National Academy of Sciences 1.8 million people die every year from diarrheal diseases such as cholera. Tens of millions of others are seriously sickened by water-related ailments. Meanwhile at sea there is the problem of plastic pollution. Sir David Attenborough summed up the situation:
“There is no away- because plastic is so permanent and so indestructible. When you cast it into the ocean it does not go away.” An article in the July edition of “National Geographic” tells how the area of severe plastic pollution in the Pacific covers roughly one million square miles. This is not just the notorious “garbage patch” of highly visible plastic waste. Even more alarming are the microplastic particles that may be so small as to be unnoticed and do not necessarily float. The creatures that live in the sea inevitably eat them; we do not yet know what consequences will follow.

I am sorry that I cannot write a more cheerful article on this subject. But I guess if everyone who reads this article does a little, well it will add up to a little more. 

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