Celebrating water

VISITORS to Bath before Easter had a rare free opportunity to experience the ancient spring and naturally warm thermal waters of the Grade 1 listed Cross Bath, in the heart of the Georgian city.

More than 230 residents and visitors were able to view and bathe in the natural thermal waters when Thermae Bath Spa opened the baths,  partly in aid of World Water Day, and partly in support of the international Celebration@Sources event.

For many long-time residents it brought back memories of the old “Tuppenny Hot pool” and for everyone it was a chance to share the history of this sacred site and the natural hot mineral-rich spring water. It is the only place in the UK where you can see the hot thermal water emerge directly from the spring.

Celebration@Sources is an event co-ordinated by the European Historic Thermal Towns Association (EHTTA) for World Water Day each year, to celebrate the sources of water which are at the heart of each of the member towns. Whether used for drinking or bathing, the sources of water in EHTTA member towns are the reason that these places exist, and the network chooses Water Day to celebrate their thermal waters, used for health, wellness and leisure.

World Water Day dates back to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development when one of the recommendations was for an annual international observance for water. The United Nations General Assembly designated 22nd March 1993 as the first World Water Day. It has been held annually since then.

In the affluent west we take water for granted, because for the vast majority of us, water comes out of a tap, clean and safe, running cold or hot to order. We complain about too much rain, and the resulting flooding, and we complain when there isn’t enough rain and we are banned from using sprinklers on our lawns. Too many of us are oblivious to the utter waste of water which is required to keep golf courses green in the desert – whether they are in oil-rich Middle Eastern states or American playgrounds like Las Vegas or Palm Springs.

It is a very different situation in other parts of the world and the charity WaterAid has issued a new report on the international situation, to coincide with World Water Day.  The report makes grim reading – more than 650 million of the world’s poorest people are living without access to an “improved” source of drinking water. In 16 countries, more than 40 per cent of the population do not have access to even a basic water facility such as a protected well.

The consequence of the lack of safe, clean water is dangerous, diarrhoeal diseases – which can be fatal, particularly for children – with a knock-on effect of loss of income and a cycle of poverty and deprivation.

A series of graphics illustrates the economics of water with brutal clarity. The recommended amount of water needed per person per day is 50 litres. In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, for a person on a typical low income and no easy access to water, the cost of 50 litres from a water delivery service is £1.84 – more than half their daily pay. In the UK, the figure is £0.07 for 50 litres of safe piped water – less than 0.1 per cent of an average low income daily rate.

The figures are shocking. By percentage, Papua New Guinea tops the 10 most deprived countries, with 60 per cent of the population lacking access to safe water. Numerically, India comes top with almost 76 million without safe water.,

The main reasons that so many people in developing countries struggle to get safe water are lack of money and political priority, the government’s inability actually to run the service, and the deep inequalities between those in remote rural areas and those in cities (although there can be major water problems in slums and townships).

Climate change is exacerbating the situation, causing desertification, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and floods with allied problems of contaminated water sources.

WaterAid has drawn up a list of actions to achieve universal access to sustainable safe water. They include asking governments to increase funding for water, sanitation and hygiene; asking donor governments to target aid specifically to water projects and to improve services to the poor and marginalised; pressing for private and public sectors to work together to improve access to safe water; and urging governments to ensure that the pledges made at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit are implemented.

As you nonchalantly pour away the washing-up water, run a bath, or water the tomato plants in your greenhouse, spare a thought – and some cash – for those who don’t have the luxury of any of these, those who have to walk miles in baking heat to draw contaminated water from an open well, those at the mercy of greedy and corrupt vendors for water for their children to drink. Visit the WaterAid website to find out more about the work of this important charity and read the State of Water report – *www.wateraid.org.uk

Fanny Charles