|A ship sails across the junction of the polluted Yangtze River and Jialin River in China|
Published in the Namib Times, 8 March 2013.
By Marcia Stanton
No life can exist without water. It is a major component in the bodies of all living organisms. In fact, 60% of our human bodies are water and we cannot live without freshwater for more than 3 days. Over 71% of the earth’s surface is water but less than 1% of our planet contains water that we can drink. Certainly we should care about what happens to that 1% of our planet that holds the water essential for the survival of every living organism on this planet, including ourselves. Do we?
According to the UN, humans release 2 million tons of industrial, agricultural and sewage waste into the world’s water every day. In developing countries alone, 70 percent of industrial wastes are released untreated into fresh waters supplies. In the U.S., water pollution alone causes 1 million illnesses per year. Worldwide, water pollution directly kills 14,000 people every day.
Clean fresh water provides more than US$75 billion in benefits, goods and ecosystem services to people, but we still choose to pollute. In the U.S. alone, it will cost over US$20 billion for water pollution cleanup after 500,000 mines were abandoned. In Germany, the public has already paid US$3.2 billion in taxes to clean up the groundwater contamination from uranium mines alone but estimates show it will cost at least US$5.2 billion.
What will mining pollution cost us in Namibia? We are now even inviting Chinese mining companies to operate in our country with no proof of a clean environmental record. China is ranked 14th in the world as having the most fresh water pollution. According to a recent report, “up to 40 percent of China’s rivers were seriously polluted” and “20 percent were so polluted their water quality was rated too toxic even to come into contact with.”
There are 60,000 premature deaths every year in China due to water pollution alone. This is equivalent to the entire population of Walvis Bay dying every year due to hazardous and toxic pollutants in water supplies. Our neighbour South Africa has done even worse and is ranked as the 11th most polluted country in terms of water pollution. The fresh water there contains 4.74 tons of industrial pollutants per/cubic km of fresh water.
For millennia our ancestors warned us about polluting our water. Religious texts including the Bible said that polluting the water would lead to our own death. Instead of taking the warning, we polluted our water incessantly until rivers started catching on fire from chemicals, half of our world’s rivers became polluted, 20% of all freshwater species went extinct, 40% of all living species on Earth were at risk of going extinct, and 5 million people died per year. Do we need something more serious to happen for us to stop recklessly destroying the 1% of our planet that holds our shared water supply?
We live by the grace of water and we will die by our lack of wisdom and ethics.