It is indeed nice of United Nations to mark a day – 22 March – to honour me for the role that I play in supporting life and indeed I feel thrilled when many nations, international agencies and institutes spend quite a time celebrating and appreciating me and requesting others to really take care of me.
I feel touched when kids across the world show their appreciations through essays, posters and dramas. I however feel saddened after a few days this show of gratitude is lost and many a wasteful habit resurfaces. I cannot understand why the human mind is so fickle and why so many good words do not end in good deeds. Yet I pledge to myself that I will continue to serve in the best way I can.
However, I must admit that I have quite a few properties which can cause problems to them if I am mismanaged. I say you take good care of me I definitely will serve you like no other. I know that you cannot live without me and I do not see you finding a substitute to me.
Sri Lanka and MDGs
I know as we are in 2015 what the world decided in 2000 as Millennium Development Goals are coming to a situation of being changed to Sustainable Development Goals. I look back and see that some of those promises and targets have not been met.
I see from where I write this now, Sri Lanka has not done so badly and it can be satisfied with the progress made. Yet I think for a country that has a population that boasts of a 2,000-year hydraulic civilisation and a track record of literacy, the performance then is not quite as strong as it should be.
I heard a speaker saying, just before he gulped me down, that Sri Lankans invented the Bisokotuwa – valve pit – 2,000 years before the Europeans. As I went down his throat, the rest of the sayings about this proud heritage were lost on me. Anyway what happened 2,000 years ago cannot always be used as evidence to generate respect for the current generation; they do have to demonstrate their own talents and gain respect.
I scan the globe to check who has really been creative in recent times when looking after me. Perhaps in the swinging ’60s you see United States trying to extract the maximum out of me. How many places do I have to wait behind big concrete dams and serve by delivering power going over many turbine blades?
I had been literally dragged across many a mile through winding pipes – real engineering marvels as in Colorado – to serve the needs of their mushrooming cities. It is during this time many a new material became quite close to me as I do demonstrate good solubalising powers, as a result of which I actually caused problems to many unless they took pains to remove those clinging to me prior to use. I knew I myself alone could not do this.
As the atmosphere too was getting polluted, even when I condensed out of the clouds and came down to earth, I picked so many things and I even picked up the nickname of “acid rain”. It was indeed sad that places such as the Taj Mahal and Greece’s Acropolis attributed their decay to my changed behaviour.
I know that have a finite capacity. Most probably from the days of dinosaurs, the quantity has not changed. However, the last two decades of interaction with man has caused me enough worries. Their creativity in coming out with multiple innovations mean that I had to take part in many practices which I had no real idea about.
I am beginning to believe that they want to control me, use me and get the maximum out of me. I am happy to serve yet I do not like when they do not show due care nor respect after taking all the work out of me. They want to dump me and find some fresh brethren of mine to continue with their tasks. I think this is bad.
I am used to a cycle. This linear way of using and disposing angers me. I understand nature and I know I am a unique part of it. I simply do not believe that there is a substitute to me. When I see the faces of a thirsty sailor marooned at sea simply unable to have me in that way, I pity the desperation the person faces.
Use with care and reuse
I do not mind when people find ways to reuse me without throwing me around after use. Getting myself cleaned is a tiring operation. I know how easy it is to throw some salt into me when I am fresh. Try getting that salt out again to get my freshness, and I say with certainty that people are trying very hard to find ways of doing that. That is why I say please use me with care. If the rest of me is spoilt, then less is available to so many others.
I appreciate those who are in Singapore and Israel. I know I am not available to them in abundance. Yet I envy when I see the desserts of Israel turning green and they get much out of me. I know it is due to their sheer respect for me that they have designed novel ways of use. I am happy when they share these successes with the outside.
In a similar way I am quite happy to circulate in Singapore. Even after going through their bodies they want to do some tricks and still drink me – both young and the old alike! I have stood on many a podium, inside plastic containers, where speaker after speaker speaks on sustainability and I feel these two countries are really practicing these ways to ensure such. I respect the citizenry in those states.
Partially desperate situations may have called for desperate measures but they have conquered by doing their best! I see that they teach their young to respect me from very early days. I have special exhibitions created for me, showing me doing all sorts of useful things and I see young faces light up when they understand and see the importance. I know that they would not waste me. In Sri Lanka I do not see similar exhibits.
Processing and standards
As I do not have a fixed abode I circulate over long distances. Solar energy helps me too in covering distances in a different way. Sometimes I sit inside buried beneath a landmass. I know the pain of multiple drilling in man’s quest to find me. At times as in Bangladesh when I come out of the ground I have caused enough problems to them.
It is interesting to note the amount of processing that men do to me when I am taken from a free flowing body. However, many a time when I am taken from underground I do not see the same treatment given to me before consumption. I yearn to tell them, please check my parameters in all cases before use.
It is indeed surprising that global bodies like International Standards Organization have developed more than 500 standards to guide my use. However, I see so few countries really using them. Freely available knowledge ignored at one’s peril I dare say.
As the numbers grow, management practices are creeping in to properly manage myself, though I hear that some do not agree, saying that I am a public good. In Sri Lanka at least at this stage my availability has not reached a critical situation. However, some maps do point out the entire region right around Sri Lanka to be facing an availability crisis as one moves towards 2025. I do not look forward to such a situation.
I earnestly hope that Sri Lanka shows some of the earlier prowess it had displayed with management and thereby contributes not only to itself but to the region at large. I would be so happy if that situation arises. Today I see more negative practices than positives.
I must end with a sharp point to ponder. I see Sri Lanka as a nation that uses me after a costly treatment for tasks that should not be simply done. Here I am treated with two imported chemicals, pumped over long distances and used to wash vehicles with gay abandon. I once heard a Japanese visitor exclaiming these people must be pretty rich to do it this way while passing when I was being liberally splashed across a vehicle body. Anyway I can only warn and hope people will note and care.
I hope by now you know who I am. I am water and I want to remind you of the Ethiopian proverb – fish discovers water last. Even the French claim credit for that statement. Please think about it. When you finally identify my importance, it may be too late.
[The writer is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is the Project Director of COSTI (Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation), which is a newly established State entity with the mandate of coordinating and monitoring scientific affairs. He can be reached via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.]