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Water Tap What will be the fundamental 'currencies' of the future? What, if we are serious about global sustainability in all its forms, should these currencies comprise now? It's likely, if we collectively are ever going to achieve a level of long-term viability for the human race, that we will have to shift the emphasis from money (or the gold standard) to the really basic requirements for life on earth - carbon, water and nitrogen, plus knowledge of all sorts to keep the whole show on the road.

Knowledge Economy and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Money is self-evidently important to individuals (how else do you secure the roof over your head and food on the table, in complex modern societies?); and it's one indicator of collective economic well-being.

But it's 'only' a measure or tool. It's not a fundamental requirement in its own right for living.

We can, at least hypothetically, survive without money, but we can't survive without water and - in its many forms - delicately balanced amounts of carbon, and of course nitrogen. In all three instances, it's a case of not too much, not too little.

Back to basics
Water, carbon and nitrogen are the fundamentals of life.

To my mind we shall all need to understand the significance of these fundamentals much better at every level from the local to the global; and when we've grasped this, the next step will be to trade in the universal units - not just as now for some specialist concerns, but as globally recognised everyday currencies.

Climate change and polar ice caps are critically important, but they don't easily interpret into something which the person on the street feels empowered to do much about.

Making it meaningful
The problems and the indicators have to be far closer to home to be meaningful in terms of action for most people. And ideally there needs to be a recognition in the discourse that we're all in this together.

Our neighbours are global as well as local when it comes to the future of the human race on the planet. (The planet itself will of course 'survive'. It's people and other currently living things which are imperilled by human activity in the twenty-first century.)

Convincing currencies
So let's see how we can reconfigure the notion of currency to have wider meaning for survival.

We all share the need for water, carbon and nitrogen, in suitably balanced and sustained ways.

The additional (secondary) critical currency is therefore knowledge; not least knowledge about how to maintain and sustain our planet. This cannot be just scientific and abstract knowledge, but needs to be shared by us all.

And that's before we even begin to consider knowledge and knowing of very many other sorts also as a basic currency of the twenty-first century.

Knowledge and knowing
Knowledge in its formal sense will, in time, become recognised as the major currency of formal activity; and 'knowing' will be the currency in everyday life which keeps us all going.

Knowing is the social glue which can keep communities sustainable and simultaneously open our eyes to new ideas and scenarios. It enables us all together to engage, empower and explore.

Cash won't be king
We can't eat cash. We can run out of formal finance and still somehow survive.

But we need the fundamentals of life, and we also desperately need ways to share our common humanity, and our connections too with other living things. This is where the eco-system meets the communalism which must bind us all together.

No return to mediaeval ways of thinking
The difference between this time around and previous eras where the good earth was the known fundamental, is this:

In the twenty-first century we can create new, non-static way of life which incorporate the very basics of life but also lets us explore the vibrant and exciting challenges of science, humanities (in every sense) and our actual selves.

A more holistic view
The time when carbon and water, if not as yet nitrogen, are recognised universal currencies, measured formally as commodities of exchange, may not be long in coming.

As we understand that knowledge and knowing are the fundamentals of our existence in communities, we will also want to emphasise the basic currencies of life.


Read more articles about the Knowledge Economy and Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Wigan Pier canal historic statue of woman miller It's International Women's Day, an occasion for looking both back and forward. We have here some photos and text reminding us gently how grim life was for working class women and children in the mills (and often for their mining menfolk too) a mere century ago. Happily, Wigan Pier and the canals are now a tourist destination alongside a modern Investment Centre; but around 1910 a different story - not least about the uses of water - was being told. The challenge remains to secure the same progress as we've seen here, in ensuring healthy and constructive lives for women and their families everywhere, in the UK and across the globe.

Gender & Women, Sustainability As If People Mattered and Water.

Wigan Pier canal Trencherfield Mill historic notice

Here's the text of this notice, displayed by the towpath at Wigan Pier:

TRENCHERFIELD MILL
When cotton was king
as told by a cotton worker circa 1910

It's hot int' mill wi' lots o' noise. On a nice day, we'll take our lunch ont' towpath an' eat snaps* from't snaps tins.
It's a 5-and-a-half day week for us cotton workers, that's 12 hours a day and half a day on Saturday.
We've all got nimble fingers , especially the Piecers'. They're mainly children, who nip under the spinning machines to tie the broken cotton back together again.
Some of us work on the spinning machines and some on the carding machines. The mill takes a raw bale of cotton, cleans it, twists it and spins it into fine yarn.
The humidity in the mill keeps the cotton damp so it's easier to spin without snapping.
There are five floors of machinery - all powered by the Trencherfield Mill Engine.
The noise is deafening - we stuff cotton from the floor in our ears to protect them. We communicate using 'Me-Mawing' - a mixture of sign language and lip reading.
We work in our bare feet because our clogs could spark on the concrete floor and set the cotton bales alight.
We wake early doors to the sound of the Trencherfield steam whistle summonin' us t'mill for another day. But as they say - England's bread hangs on Lancashire's thread.

[* a snack favoured also by the men of Wigan, many of them miners, usually bread-and-dripping, with cold tea, carried in a flat tin called a snap-can - see George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier]

And here is the towpath which a century ago provided fresh air and respite for those mill workers as they ate their lunch-time snaps:

09.03.06 Wigan Pier canal & towpath

Wigan Pier Quarter & canals notice
[Public display boards by Wigan Heritage Services]

The power of water
And so, strangely, we come full-circle.

Water - the canals, the steam - was the power behind the early production of textiles, employing many women and children in horrendous conditions, as the full logic of the Industrial Revolution took its vice-like grip on the emerging economies of what we have come to know as the 'developed world'; but even now in other parts of the globe water remains both a critical force potentially for good, and often an almost unattainable resource.

Women as water workers
Vast numbers of women and children in the developing world continue to toil many hours a day just to obtain water to sustain their very existence.

Life in places like Wigan was harsh and short for women and men, alike, a century ago. It remains, as Oxfam tells us in the topical context of International Women's Day, particularly harsh even now for women in places such as Iraq, where water continues to be inaccessible for many.

The gendered meanings of sustainability
This is where we begin to understand what 'sustainability' is really about.... the just and equitable distribution of basic physical resources and accessible socio-economic opportunities, for everyone, women as much as men, the world over.

In terms of future global sustainability and equity, as the Gender and Water Alliance also reminds us, water remains a critically gendered issue.


Read more about Gender & Women and about Sustainability As If People Mattered and Water; and see more photographs of around Liverpool & Merseyside.

derelict site What’s the reality of low carbon communities? You can have your say about the future of zero carbon development for two weeks from today. The Homes and Communities Agency Academy is hosting an open, on-line debate about creating low carbon communities, addressing issues like the carbon implications of the credit crunch and lessons from the international experience. Contributors include podcasts from high profile speakers such as David Lock and Paul King So now have your say....

Sustainability As If People Mattered
The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) Academy, for which I am a tutor, has existed only since 1 December 2008, when it arose from the previous Academy for Sustainable Communities; but already it is reaching out to engage people in debate about critically important issues.

The first of these open-access debates begins today, Friday 23 January 2009 (until 6 February), on the new HCAA Debate Place portal.

The question under discussion is how we can rise to the low carbon challenge?

The weblink to this national debate can be found here.

Creating low carbon communities
The HCA Academy will be asking:

What is the reality of creating low carbon communities and what can we learn from International experience?

The debate will be facilitated and you can post comments, ask questions and watch video clips on climate, connectivity and community issues.

The on-line discussion will probe issues such as:

- Will the Code for Sustainable Homes be affected by the credit crunch?
and
- How do we reduce the carbon footprint of new homes in the UK?

Low carbon case studies
The debate will be supported by a series of on-line films from high-profile speakers, including David Lock from David Lock Associates and Paul King, CEO of UK Green Building Council.

Research published by the HCA Academy which examines lessons learned from international case studies will provide further insight into the latest issues and skills implications of low carbon developments.

Continuing the debate
Following the debate, a short summary report will be published on-line.

'Debate Place' will also host links to resources such as the website Demystifying Climate Change, a resource designed to help practitioners navigate the low carbon debate and work out relevance for their own work.

We hope you can contribute to this high profile and important debate, and that you will encourage others to do the same. To join the debate please click here.


Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered and about Carbon Neutral Villages.

Ratatouille Today marks the start of UK National Vegetarian Week. The arguments for a balanced vegetarian diet are persuasive - it 'saves' energy, it uses less carbon and water, it can respect the seasons, it has potential to make a huge contribution to resolving global hunger, and it's good for us. So how can we make vegetarianism more often the diet of choice?

Nobody expects an immediate cessation of meat production, let alone a stop right this minute to diary farming. Many people, admittedly not all, will be happy for now to see the continued consumption of vegetarian diets could just be 'meat-free', with all the benefits that would bring.

But one of the things National Vegetarian Week can do is introduce us to the wide and tasty range of foods which a vegetarian diet includes and the reasons for choosing it. And it can help raise awareness of how to prepare and cook vegetarian ingredients.

Long-term business
And, most importantly, perhaps National Vegetarian Week can help along the debate about how in reality the transition to a more sustainable food economy might happen. There have to be ways to protect the livelihoods, for instance, of people who currently produce meat, but who in the future will need to farm differently. Food production is self-evidently critical for us all. It's the nature of the product, not the supply, which must change.

At last we're beginning to act (albeit far too slowly) to the idea that carbon needs to be conserved in our industial, domestic and transport arrangements, as does water.

Canny investors have already realised that now is also the time to get a grasp on how to make meat-free food an integral part of the move towards what we all hope will be a sustainable future.


Read more about Food (a series of postings on this theme)
Food, Facts And Factoids
Beans Or Beef? The New Eco-Moral Choices
Seasonal Food - Who Knows About It?.

08.04.02 place laid for dinner 140x78 010a.jpg Food is rising rapidly up the agenda. Allotments, biofuels, calories, customs, eating disorders, famine, farming, fats, fibre, foodmiles, GM, health, organic, packaging, processing, salt, seasonal, security, sell-by, sustainability, vitamins, water.... Where do we begin with what to eat and drink?

Modern society has moved from food as nutrition and survival to food as an element of our leisure experience. Until recently it's been seen by many as an issue to be left to dieters or even ‘health freaks’.

But now people are beginning to ask what food's about. The immediate answer to this question could be, it’s all very confusing. There are 'facts' and there are, it seems, 'food factoids'; and there are some consequences for action, when we think things through....

Here are some general headings and questions about food which may help:


Nutrition (Should we eat it?)
Strange as it may seem, for most adults there is still more concern about calorific value and ‘losing weight’ than there is about the nutritional value of what we eat. Almost everyone wants to be slim; yet despite concerns in many parts of the world about obesity and health relatively few people actually eat their fruit and veg ‘Five A Day'.

We as consumers still don’t fully appreciate nutritional information or understand the significance for our health and well-being of salt and other minerals and vitamins, various sorts of fats, fibre, ‘additives’, sugar, glycaemic index, units of alcohol and so on; and in some respects nor, completely, do the experts.

The healthy eating message is beginning to sink in, but questions around nutritional labelling and how to project the public health message continue to loom large.


Children eat too (Is food for kids especially important?)
Even (especially) for children, the health impact of being overweight, along with issues around longer-term well-being and educational outcomes, are now major concerns, as Jamie Oliver and his School Dinners campaign keep reminding us.

It is not altogether clear however that poor children necessarily have ‘worse’ diets than better off ones – possibly because even wealthier children eat ‘the wrong things’, albeit from choice (kids of all sorts it seems won’t eat their greens). But perhaps some groups consume ‘nicer’ food than others, even though the direct nutritional value - or not - of food consumed by children may (sometimes) vary independently of income.

So what more if anything needs to be done about family eating patterns, or advertising food to children, on the television and elsewhere? How much value should we put on meals together as a way to promote family well-being and cohesion?

And how important, as a good start, is breast-feeding? Should we as a society do more to encourage it?

Or should we emphasise exercise more than nutrition, to protect children's physical and mental health?


Organic? GM? Nano? Sell-by date? (Is it wholesome?)
Confusion reigns when we look at the science behind modern food production.

Is organicWho says so, and why is it so pricey?) What about free-range? What's a superfood? And do superfoods really exist?

Has the product we're about to eat, or an antecedent of it, been genetically modified? Is that good or bad? – and for whom? consumers, farmers or other people in the developing world? Also, how has it changed the food?

What of new techniques? Are any food nanotechnologies involved? Whatever would they be for? Are they good or dangerous?

Who decides ‘sell-by’ dates? And by what criteria?

Can we trust the Food Standards Agency, the government and European legislation and everybody else involved in food regulation and statutory labelling? What about the consumer organisations and the supermarkets? Who knows best?


Presenting, preserving and not wasting our food (Is tinned OK and who needs packaging?)
How can we tell whether tinned food is as good as frozen or fresh? How much packaging is required for hygiene and how much is, for instance, simply there to make food look good?

What's the relative energy and resource cost of different ways of preserving food?

And, crucially, how can we ensure that food we buy is not wasted? At present one third of food purchased - in restaurants, shops or wherever - in the UK alone is simply thrown away: hence the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Perhaps even with today's relatively higher prices we are more careful about food if we're locavors, when we know locally who grew or prepared it, and where, than when we don't?


Food miles (Does it cost the earth?)
Food travels the world in strange ways. We (in the UK) get tomatoes and lamb from the other side of the globe, yet we also grow them ourselves.

How to tell people usefully about the food mile cost of what they eat may be a moot point. It’s not just how many miles, or even carbon footprint: it takes some eight units of grain to produce one unit of beef; but some people still reckon that good value - including, no doubt, growing numbers of consumers in China and India, who have a preference for an affluent Western diet.

So sometimes the real cost or value can only be calculated by comparing what would happen if foods of equivalent nutritional or other sort of value were produced in a different way. And how would you put that on a label?


Biofuels (Is growing 'food for cars' acceptable?)
We all know that we're using too much oil, charging around in cars and planes when often we don't need to.

Biofuels seemed for a while to be the perfect way out of this - grow crops to substitute for more usual oils. But now, as the UK's Chief Scientist has said, we know there are costs too; some biofuels are neither sustainable, nor ethical.

And on top of this we must acknowledge that biofuels, like food for people, takes up valuable land space. The question is, what's the 'right' balance - if there is such a thing?


Water used (Will it increase global tensions?)
There is an emerging awareness that food is mainly water, and that water is the also the most precious (and sometimes wasted) commodity in its production.

If the beef-to-grain carbon ratio is high, the equivalent water ratio is many times more so. (Let us pass on the comlex issues around food for domestic animals and pets - there is an important balance to acknowledge here between these animals' functions as sources of security and comfort for people, and their costs to the environment - but who has looked at this balance?)

There are those who believe that water, not oil, will trigger the next global disputes; but as yet few of us have thought how to approach the global issues of water scarcity and food.


Food prices (Can we afford it?)
The cost of food against income has fallen for most of us in the first world over recent years. Now it’s beginning to increase again to more traditional levels – though it will probably stabilise - as global issues such as draught, climate change and biofuels impact on the market.

Food habits have changed from agrarian times, but often seem nonetheless to lag behind the reality of what's available, and may say more about cultural expectations or how a person ate when they were young, than about what's now regarded as 'best' for them (or, indeed, with modern advertising the converse may also be true on occasion).

Perhaps people need to know about less expensive and more nutritious alternative foods, if the ones they’re used to become more expensive, or may now be known to be less 'healthy'? But who can best tell them?


Commercial advantage and competition (Do supermarkets cause ‘food deserts?)
Allied to this is now a fear that supermarkets placed in disadvantaged or poor areas will result in so-called food deserts, where poor people can no longer afford to buy even the basics of a decent diet.

But some observers say that food deserts are really different types of access, or actually an urban myth or 'factoid'. Evidence for these food deserts is to date far inconclusive – indeed, some research indicates that when supermarkets come to poorer areas, both the economy and local people’s diets may improve.

So how can we indicate economic ‘value’ and nutritional benefit in the contexts of where people live, what they expect to eat and how they get access to their food?


Customs, symbols and traditions (What sort of foods for whom?)
Shared food has always been a way of bonding - we cut cakes and 'raise a glass', offer potlatch, drink tea and conduct many other ceremonies across the world to denote belief, position or togetherness.

Then there's the fascinating question of why different people in different places and at different times eat different sorts of food. Sometimes it's easy to explain - 'luxury' and difficult to obtain foods are reserved in almost all cultures and communities for conspicuous consumption on special occasions, for instance - but often there are other styles and patterns to eating too.

And what do we know about 'healthy' diets across the world? Why do people in some places live longer and fitter lives than others? What traditions and customs help us keep our communities intact? And is any of what we might learn about customs and habits of food consumption transposable from one community or culture to another?


Seasonal, allotments and home grown (Should we grow it ourselves?)
Locally produced foodin season' is the new mantra, but it can’t be the whole story. There are many localities which can’t provide the full spectrum of nutritional need. Varied diets often require varied sources.

Nonetheless, an appreciation of the cycles of nature helps us to understand how our food is produced and what makes it special. ‘Seasonal’ recipes draw attention to the possibility of ingredients with a low carbon footprint, just as allotments, smallholdings and local market gardens offer the possibility of learning about how what we eat grows.

Producing and sourcing food locally may not resolve all our problems, but they certainly have their place in the spectrum of things we as consumers can enjoy and need to know. How about allotments for everyone who wants one (there are long waiting lists in some places), and special efforts to grow – and eat - vegetables and fruit in schools and other community locations?


The food economy (How does all this fit into UK plc?)
There are many things to think about here; just ask the politicians, farmers and market gardeners. And that's before we get to talk about European subsidies and farming compensation packages...

That however is not the whole story. Slowly, we are grasping the interconnections between the economic impacts and needs of farmers and growers, and how official policies affect the welfare of the wider rural and urban economies. Never again, hopefully, will problems like foot and mouth be addressed without understanding the fragile complexities of the rural economy as such; and hopefully too in future the wider public will perceive the business and scientific complexities of matters such as animal vaccination.

But let’s understand that not all food needs to be produced in rural areas. There’s plenty of scope also for townspeople to develop opportunities and skills via commercial companies and social enterprises around food, as is evident from the popularity of city-based organic foodstores, local vegetable deliveries and farmers’ markets... not to mention the universal interest in restaurants and cafes in modern day society!


Food, farms and famine (What about the developing world?)
If opportunities for stabilising the food economy remain to be developed efficiently, effectively and well in Western economies, how much more so is this true for those parts of the globe where even the grain supply is critically under-resourced, and where water and food are in desperately short supply. These were the sorts of concerns of the Downing Street Food Summit in early 2008.

Many people would like reassurance that the food they purchase is ethically sourced and gives a fair return to the farmers who produced it. And we need to understand much more about the food supply chain, as Professor Tim Lang of the Centre for Food Policy has been saying for years.

Movements such as Fairtrade are gaining wider recognition – plus a greater share of commercial shelf-space - and are critical to our understanding of food as a global issue.


Sustainability and ‘food security’ (Will there be enough food for everyone?)
There are those who fear we are sleepwalking into a global food disaster. We need to find ways of adjusting our eating habits (and other consumption) without delay.

Currently it’s said that humankind acts a though we had three planets-worth of resources at our disposal, not just one. And that's before we start to look at how population is increasing (in the UK as well as almost everywhere else).

It is also suggested that, in contrast to the current situation, the UK (and doubtless numbers of other nations) could with ease be self-sufficient for food if everyone were vegetarian - even though our lifestyle in the Western world is many times as water and carbon intensive as that of people in developing countries. Veganism, of course, is even more effective as a way of feeding everyone. Becoming 'selfsufficient-ish' (and largely vegetarian-ish?) can be achieved in most, except perhaps the most extreme, locations.

These last few observations offer a rather pointed context for all the other matters discussed above.


Read more about Food
and about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

What questions and views do you have about food?

Rain, umbrella, seat (small) 100x131.jpg The rain it raineth every day; but, strange as this British 'Summer' weather feels, we know a lot about what's triggered the deluge. We can debate the extent of global warming, but the big issue is how to ensure it doesn't carry on. This is where conventional science gives way to understandings of human behaviour. Hearts and minds will help us meet the challenges of climate change, not simply technology.

As everyone keeps telling us, these are uncertain times. You don’t have to have been in the floods to have felt in some way their effects….

But understanding it all is a bit of a challenge. Is it true that climate change is well and truly upon us? (I suspect, on the whole the answer is Yes) Is there anything we can do about it? (Ditto.)

Knowing what we know
And do we need to know more? I’d say Yes again, but it’s a qualified Yes.

We already know a lot; how to reduce and recycle waste, how to travel carbon-lightly, how to share resources for food, water and other essential commodities. What we sometimes don’t know is how to put that ‘knowledge’ into practice.

Taking evidence to policy
The challenges of interpreting the environmental phenomena currently around us are being taken up by some of the brightest natural scientists. Their evidence is and will continue to be both good and available for everyone to consider for themselves.

Now we must move also to include, in a quite fundamental way, the social sciences and the understandings they bring. Best progress towards confronting climate and other fears needs to embrace how people - people of all sorts, not ‘just’ those already committed to doing something, but everyone else as well - feel in their hearts, as well as how in their heads they understand.

Hearts and minds in context
Science in the service of coping with climate change is first and foremost a tool towards sensible actions and policies. It will do that science no harm at all if it has two conjoined wings, the natural and the social, bringing together the evidence required to make action happen.

This is a dialogue in which everyone can play their part. The challenge is to articulate and explore what best makes people get engaged, positively and in a meaningful way……




A version of this article was first posted on Climatespace on 27 July 2007.

Steam & grass (small) 80x106.jpg World Water Day, today, is a little-remarked event but concerns an absolutely vital aspect of life. Wherever we live, and whatever we do, we can't be without water. This is an opportunity to pause and take a check (should we say, a 'raincheck'?) on how we view this most critical commodity, and on what we can do to help.

Coping With Water Scarcity is the theme of World Water Day 2007. There can be few themes as important as this.

World Water Day as an initiative grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) 'Earth Summit' in Rio de Janeiro.

Marking the day
One interesting idea about how to mark WWD 2007 has been to send an e-card, with a choice of pictures and stamps. This helps to spread the word that we all need to think carefully about water and what it means for everyone. Other years have seen initiatives such as the Celebrating Water for Life booklet, published on the internet in 2005.

Central and critical
To those of us in Western Europe and North America water is a commodity which seems to amount to a right. We know there are issues about water and sustainability, but we never really doubt it will be there for us.

In other parts of the world there is neither enough water for health and hygiene, nor any acceptable way to get access to it; I was shocked recently to read that in some parts of the world the fetching and carrying of water is a task undertaken by young girls, daily walking many miles, who thereby miss out on huge chunks of their schooling.

Take action to help
I have mentioned before that WaterAid is a charity set up simply to get clean water to people who desperately need it. Supporting this focused and straightforward objective [here] is something we can do any day, not just on World Water Day.

See also: Water, Water...

TheIndependent,water&climate (small) 90x102.jpg Today's Independent newspaper offers us a mixed message. Under a front page story entitled 'The Climate Has Changed' it features a special issue on 'the bill which makes action on global warming a reality'. And then, at the point of sale, it proposes a special offer of a free plastic bottle of water.... Celebration of a major breakthrough in environmental legislation is greatly to be welcomed. But toasting this particular achievement with such an environmentally unfriendly product tells us a lot about the contradictions of the market.

The Independent has long featured environmental issues as important news, and for that it should be applauded. A headline like today's 'Blair hails 'historic day' in battle against climate change', with a full seven pages of analysis, is indeed something to be welcomed.

But why on earth (to use an apt metaphor) did The Indy decide to promote sales (in some train stations at least), today of all days, by offering free bottled water - just at a time when large numbers of organisations are acknowledging the importance of good old water-from-the-tap?

Joined up thinking, this is not. Priority of marketing over content, it might well be. There's a way to go on the eco agenda yet...

Water, Water....

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Water & rushes (small) 85x103.jpgWill water be the next compelling commodity? It's one of the most fundamentally important things in life, yet the connections between water and 'sustainability' (economic, political or even simply physical) are rarely at the front of our minds. Perhaps 2007 will be the year when we begin to think more aquatically. But first, the political will to deliver must be helped to be there.

My conscience has been jolted.

For several months I've had a WaterAid leaflet on my desk, reminding me, horrifically, that a child somewhere in the world dies every 15 seconds from ghastly illnesses connected with contaminated water. And alongside this leaflet has lain an article by John Vidal of the Guardian, written on 17 August '06, reporting on assessments by forecasters from some of the world's leading corporate users of fresh water - which will, they predict, be the source of widespread conflict by 2015.

Neither of these publications makes easy reading.

Two personal tales to tell
This week my sister, a doctor, told me about a recent visit to India, when she had seen for herself the incredibly pressing need for clean water - both to drink, and to improve overall hygiene in some very challenging locations, where people are trying as hard as they possibly can to make decent lives for themselves and their families.

Then, yesterday, I heard the response from a colleague to the question: 'What has been your greatest personal achievement?'

Without hesitation he replied it was installing a clean water supply in a distant part of Africa where, until the tap of his engineering water-supply project was ceremonially turned on, and his glass filled crystal-clear with this precious commodity, there had never before been drinkable running water..... Well, as personal achievements go, that has to be pretty good.

The Great Stench
And I have also just read Larry Elliott's piece in the Guardian of 15 January '07, in which he refers to London's Great Stench of 1858 - the year Thames effluent so got up the noses of Parliamentarians that public health measures finally came into their own. Elliott then reminds us, as does my WaterAid leaflet, that poor sanitation still kills millions every year.

Perhaps we begin to see an emerging pattern here. Politicians can make a real difference, but they need a seriously heavy public nudge to feel they are politically safe to do so.

Action as well as words
Firstly, to avoid huge conflicts in the fairly near future, we need to think right now about conserving water and about climate change and its affects on water. David Milliband is obviously our man there, as Secretary of State for Defra; and the evidence is that he and his colleagues are working very hard on this.

Secondly, as Larry Elliott this week makes clear, water is simply not at the top of the aid agenda - but Chancellor Gordon Brown, a politician who really does try to make things better in the developing world , has said he would welcome more public pressure to do just that.

Making progress
So let's see if we can move things on. We can all talk about climate change, and 'save' water where we can in our own lives; but the facts as they stand for many people in parts of the developing world are too horrible for most of us even to contemplate. The future, however, could be so much better.

WaterAid works in 17 countries (Bangladesh, Burkina, Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Uganda and Zambia) providing water, sanitation and hygiene education to some of the world's poorest people. .....

Taking water to people who need it
If you can give a donation - however large or small (even £2 really helps) - to WaterAid, please click here.

And if you would like to expand on why the Chancellor and others should be supported 100% in telling us all how very important access for people everywhere to clean water is, the Comments box below is yours to write in.

All of us together can make it possible for our leaders to do what must be done to deliver clean water for everyone. Thank you!

See also: World Water Day (22 March 2007)