Running for water


As I walked at the Dow Live Earth Run/Walk for Water along with thousands of others last fortnight, I wondered if the women and children whom we were symbolically supporting could feel our empathy.

While I merely lugged along my own substantial weight, there were others who carried jerry cans of water to simulate the weary trudge that is a part of the routine of women in hundreds of villages around the world.

Of course, at the end of our symbolic run (and even mid-way through it) we, along with joggers in 200 cities where the event was organised, could gulp down as much water as we wanted from the ubiquitous plastic bottles and cups provided.

The run at Singapore, which cost each participant S$48, will contribute 10% of proceeds to Lien Aid, an NGO which has been working to make water and sanitation accessible to countries in Southeast Asia. Similarly, in other cities, different NGOs will receive a fraction of the proceeds to use for water-related activities.

The main aim of the Run for Water on April 18, ostensibly, was to increase awareness about the need for everyone to have access to water. If one judges by the huge participation by social networking websites, this aim seems to have been met. 20,000 Tweets were made and 40 million interactions took place on Facebook apart from videos and photos shared in several other websites.

But if one looks closely, the discussions had more to do with the fun people had at the events. This is not to disparage the work of the organisers; after all, it is not easy to direct the attention of the general public towards a serious subject without including an element of fun.

Yet, there is still a lot of work needed to raise the level of debate on water. Even at the World Water Forum in Istanbul last year, the same old debates about private sector versus public sector management of water and about water as a commodity took up a lot of precious time.

How to push the public water utilities to perform better, how to raise the finance to help them provide a decent service and how to sustain this service in the years to come are some of the questions that need to be debated by citizens and by political leaders.

Also, more work is needed for the concepts of water, energy and resource footprints of different goods and services to permeate into public consciousness. Most people still do not make the connection between a consumptive lifestyle and the degradation of natural resources including water.

Let us run again for water but let us also make sure we know where we are going.

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