Coming across one of the scores of billboards that blight the skyline of major cities of this blessed land, one finds that a certain bottled brand has the distinction of being ‘Pakistan’s favorite water’.
One reason behind this rushed announcement is that our economy whiz kids have all of a sudden realised that there is big money to be made from water. This commodity, that was not only freely available once, but also considered nature’s gift to humankind, has now — thanks to the mixed priorities of our merry band of planners — become a saleable commodity, out of which millions can be earned without much effort.
The only hurdle in the way of this cut-throat brigade was that this precious commodity was available in plenty in this Land of the Pure (read Poor). So, what better way to vault this hurdle than to contaminate our natural sources of water, in order to oblige an already impoverished multitude to get addicted to bottled water they cannot afford? What will they think of next? Bottled fresh air, perhaps!
It may sound old fashioned, but one can distinctly remember the time when the ultimate thirst quencher was, well, plain water! When one felt thirsty they would instinctively opt for a refreshing glass of fresh water. If they felt like living it up in the hot weather, there was the luxury of iced water. This now appears to be history if you happen to belong to the benighted but bejeweled brigade.
It is now considered ‘infra-dig’ to drink water if you happen to be thirsty — you are supposed to go for what is euphemistically called ‘a beverage’. For those who still thirst for plain old water, the powers-that-be have thought up the concept of ‘designer water’. Public Relations agents have thereby managed to give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘liquid assets’.
While this game is played in the prosperous societies — and by association in the prosperous segments of the poorer societies — the overwhelming majority of the world’s population does not have access to clean drinking water.
Those (including inhabitants of our blessed land) whom nature has endowed with abundant water resources are being deliberately denied access to this natural resource by their ‘planners’, in order to swell the local market for the beverage multinational giants.
At this point, perhaps the multinational beverage giants can be reminded of their duty towards humanity. Profits from the sale of bottled beverages (even if we are to count only the developing world markets) are astronomical.
Would it be too much to expect these multinational giants to put aside a small proportion of their profits (say 10%) to be utilised — under the general supervision of the UN — for projects intended for the express purpose of making clean drinking water available to the deprived sections of the world populace? Such projects could help raise the image of the UN from an ineffectual debating society to that of a utilitarian organisation working for the general upliftment of the peoples it is supposed to represent.
History has seen wars that were fought to gain control of various natural resources. The most recent have been the wars fought for oil. It appears highly likely that the wars of the foreseeable future will be for the control of the world’s water resources.
In the Middle East and occupied Palestine, the struggle for the control of water sources has already started, while India’s obstinacy about Jammu and Kashmir may be directly traced to her desire to control the upper reaches of the water sources flowing into Pakistan.
An authority on ecology once said: “there is no problem faced by a developing country that cannot be traced back to water: either its shortage or its surfeit”.
The world has learned the hard way to take water seriously. As always, we are several steps behind. Yet, it is never too late to make amends as there are bitter lessons to be learnt from history. As they say, fore-warned is fore-armed.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22, 2019.
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