5 Oct 2008

Take Me to the Source -- The Review

Rupert Wright sent me his book [amazon.uk][amazon US has used copies] to review. [Guardian review]

The book is a good read, exploring the many ways that we understand and relate to water. (Chapter 6 bogs down a little when Wright tries to weave in the plot details of all water's appearances in poetry, drama, etc.)

Wright -- as someone who's been involved with water for years -- understands water in the developing world:
Water is a "human right," says Jamal Saghir, "But it is not free. Somebody has to pay for the delivery."

Again, I could not agree more. My objection to it being dubbed a "human right" is that this attitude encourages paralysis. When I was in Ghana in 2002, employees of the Ghana Water Company told me that they oppose private water supply because water should be a "human right". Later that day I saw them setting off in tankers to deliver water to the poor in the slums, and selling water by the bucket. A private company would have connected people to the mains and charged them less in the process. In my book, not being ripped off by your water supplier should also be human right.

If the concept of "water is human right" is one factor that stops the poor from getting water by encouraging inertia, the other is price. The emotional bond we all have to water makes it tempting to view it as something special, not as another simple commodity...
Later on, he says "all you need to know about water projects can be summarized in 10 Commandments:
  1. Safe water and wastewater provision is best carried out by the local municipality, if it's big enough. If not, small municipalities should club together. Hold of the elected officials responsible.
  2. If the municipality or region cannot do it, because they are bankrupt, corrupt or just inefficient, then look to get the private sector involved.
  3. On no account give an unregulated monopoly to a large private company. Private companies by definition are out for profit and will screw you if they get a chance. Given them a concession contract, preferably a joint venture with a local company. And watch them carefully.
  4. People will have to pay for their water. Enough to cover the cost of delivery and to stop them from wasting it. People are happy to pay for good quality, piped water. It is cheaper than buying it from tankers and carting buckets. The charges need remain affordable to all.
  5. Anyone who is not going to pay the water bill does not have a say in the procedure.
  6. Beware of NGOs carrying slogans.
  7. Watch out for development bankers bearing prescriptions.
  8. Think carefully before you dam or drain.
  9. Animals, fish, birds, insects and plants share this planet with us. Leave them enough good quality water.
  10. Ignore any of the above rather than do something downright barbarous."
Bottom Line: I enjoyed this well-written book for its accurate (to me) exploration of water's complexity: FIVE stars.

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