Water, water everywhere

At a community meeting last night, residents of the tiny town of Bundanoon voted almost unanimously to ban the sale of bottled water. (Almost 400 people showed up to vote, and only two dissented.) Bundanoon is the first community in Australia—and possibly the world—to take this step.

Why does this matter? Because it’s a huge statement about one of the most important issues that few people are talking about.

Access to water is obviously crucial to human survival. Yet, although most of us in the West take it for granted, more than 1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, according to a 2006 United Nations Human Development Report.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Maude Barlow speak on the subject at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.  Among other topics, her lecture on “blue gold” discussed the role multinational corporations—and even NGOs, such as the World Bank—sometimes play in compromising individuals’ access to water.

Indeed, according to the UN report,

The availability of water is a concern for some countries. But the scarcity at the heart of the global water crisis is rooted in power, poverty and inequality, not in physical availability.

Bottled water can be a part of this problem, because it often attaches an inflated price to a basic commodity.

It also raises environmental concerns. How much fuel is expended each year to ship water around the world? How much plastic is used for the bottles—which then end up in landfills?

I’m not offering these thoughts to inspire guilt, but rather to raise awareness. (One of my own guilty pleasures is Gerolsteiner water, which is sourced in Germany,  and I’ve been known to consume the occasional soft drink.)

Fundamentally, we each have the right to make our own choices. But we should make informed decisions that generally serve the greater good. If each of us makes only one small positive choice every day, imagine how those choices would add up.

I applaud the citizens of Bundanoon for their unselfish, enlightened decision. What an admirable example for the rest of us.

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