Water Not War


More than 1 billion people on our planet are forced to drink foul, infected water, which has killed at least 22 million people in the last decade. They could all have safe, clean water within 10 years, for just a tiny fraction of the cost of global military spending. Why isn't it happening?

Most governments, especially rich white ones, would apparently rather buy weapons to kill other human beings than build water facilities to save the lives of black, brown and yellow poor people.

According to the Stockholm international peace research institute, in 2006 total global military expenditure topped $1.2tn; with the US accounting for $528.7bn of this spending and the UK for $59.2bn.

At a cost of about 5% of the world's military budgets, over a period of 10 years clean, safe water could be provided to every person on earth. But this won't happen because while the poor are deprived, the rich are depraved.

Mega-rich individuals, corporations and nations rule the world. They worship the false idols of celebrity, money, profits, consumerism, speculation and conspicuous consumption. Love, compassion, mercy and human solidarity are largely alien ideals in the ruthless, cut-throat world of free markets and stockmarkets. The super-wealthy know the price of everything and the value of nothing. People are commodities, just like sacks of maize or barrels of oil. Human needs are not important. Money is everything, and since the poor don't have it, they are held in contempt. Hundreds of millions of non-white people are condemned to drink muddy, stinking water. If the have-a-lots care, they don't show it. Their unspoken message seems to be: let them drink shit.

While children are dying all over the world every day from contaminated water, the rich world carries on regardless. And we, the people, are to blame. We let the rich get away with their greed. We keep electing governments who, at the drop of a hat, find billions to wage illegal, immoral wars, but who can't bring themselves to even marginally downsize their armaments budget to finance a truly just battle - the battle to give everyone on this planet what we, in Britain and the west, assume is a fundamental right: easy access to drinking water that tastes good and won't harm us.

Our government would not tolerate people dying of waterborne diseases in the UK. So why should we tolerate such needless deaths in developing countries? Isn't a human being a human being, whoever they are and wherever they live on this planet? Aren't all people's lives equally precious? Apparently not, otherwise there would be concerted international action to tackle the shame of dirty water and the resultant obscene waste of human life. 

I recently interviewed Nick Edmans of the charity WaterAid for my online TV series, Talking With Tatchell. He confirmed that in the eighth year of the 21st century, at least 1.1 billion people have no fresh, safe water to drink.

Before this day is over, 5,000 children will die from infected water, leaving up to 10,000 parents grieving - tonight, and every night.

All in all, around 2.2 million people - 1.8 million of them children - are killed each year by waterborne diseases.

A further 2.6 billion people have no secure, hygienic toilet facilities. They use rudimentary holes in the ground which breed disease. The human waste leaches into the soil, often contaminating the groundwater that supplies wells and despoiling rivers where people bathe, wash and fish.

This morning I woke up and walked 12 feet to my kitchen tap. I drank a large refreshing glass of pure water. Alas, the easily accessible, clean, safe water that we take for granted in the west is only a distant dream for one-sixth of the world's population, especially in Asia and Africa.

Hundreds of millions of poor people have to trek for many miles and hours every day to fetch often foul-smelling, diseased drinking water that can cause deadly dysentery, cholera, typhoid and intestinal worms and parasites. 

The lack of safe water supplies frequently impacts worst on marginal social groups, such as lower castes and ethnic minorities, who may be denied access to the best water sources and be forced to pay premium prices to private suppliers.

Some tourist developments in developing countries, such as big hotels and golf courses, involve the private owners sinking their own bore holes to extract water from below ground. This often results in the depression of the water table, drying up wells and causing water crises in the surrounding villages. 

Water shortages and a lack of affordability in developing countries have, in some cases, been exacerbated by privatisation, which has usually benefited urban dwellers to the neglect of their rural counterparts, and has usually resulted in private monopolies and price hikes, to the detriment of low income families.

With global warming and rising populations, the prospect looms of future disputes - even wars - over shortages of fresh water supplies. A foretaste of such disputes can be seen in the friction between Israel and the Palestine over Tel Aviv's diversion of water from the Jordan river to meet Israeli demand, leaving the West Bank under-supplied.

It strikes me as utterly immoral that in the midst of a world of immense wealth and plenty, billions of people have so little - not even the basics of life like safe water to drink.

Surely, it is time for a major global effort to redistribute wealth from rich nations to poor ones and to divert investment in weapons and wars to health-sustaining, life-saving development projects such as the universal provision of cheap, accessible, clean water?

Safe water is a human right. Give them water, not war.

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner, and a member of the queer rights group OutRage! and the left wing of the Green party. He is the Green Party's parliamentary candidate for Oxford East.


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  11 Comments   Comment

  1. Muslim from UK

    The message is important AND so is the messenger. I tend to sympathise with the gist of the article. However, we must also bear in mind that the messenger is an infamous ISLAMOPHOBE & HOMOSEXUAL agitator. Would we be so comfortable with endorsing Hitler the vegan as opposed to his other activities? The use of that particular example is to show the point in stark relief. It is queer that Islamicity are either ill-informed with regard to his background or are quite happy to ignore the white elephant in the room, making him appear palatable to mainstream Ummah - sugarcoating?

  2. Zu from usa

    Great article. Amirah needs to get a life. There was not any profanity in the article.

    One has to focus on the key points which is innocent people dying from not having clean drinking water, not on stupid sensless things.

  3. Tasneem from USA

    I agree with the author and the discontentment that is taking place in this world is due to greed of some and power for some and one forgets that contentment comes only by sharing and it enriches lives of the giver instead of the feeling of hole in yr life, and yes one should consider himself lucky that you can drink clean

    water by turning yr faucet. I have experienced the pain of getting up in the morning and walking half a block to use public bathrooms and filling heavy buckets of water for washing and bathing etc. Hot water was only possible by heating it in a big pot and in winter bathing once a week was a luxury. One cannot possibly feel the pain and discomfort till you are in a situation weather you are a white or black.

  4. samina from usa

    While I agree with Kris about corruption, misuse of resources

    etc. by third world nations, I am positive that change in the lives

    of the poor can be brought about by empowering those in need.

    Financial aid should be given by the rich communities in the

    world directly to the labors who can dig wells in their own

    communities. This way the poor can be empowered without

    involving the corrupt governments of the worlds, both in

    developed and developing nations.

  5. amirah m from usa

    the article has a lot of good information, but I extremely disliked the use of profanity in the article. It was totally unnecessary and completely unprofessional.

  6. Kris MacPherson from Malaysia

    Dear Peter Tachell, I have heard of your good work and struggle for humanitarian cause in this area and I whole heartedly agree with the views expressed by your goodself in the article. I find it interesting and thought provoking.

    And to Jeanie Gillingham, I do not honestly think that Mr Tachell is demeaning the white people. I for one, would strenously object if I think those were his exact aims and intentions. What he has been trying to do in ernest is to highlight the policies of the western and so-perceived advance world towards the lesser developed countries, and he is right on many points. It's hard talk yes and hard truth.

    But consider this, it is a fact that the neglect of assistance to the lesser developed countries continues while instead at the same time encouraging them to purchase weapons to arm their mad and private tribal wars.

    But having said all that, I justified my support to Mr. Tachell's view by entering a caveat of exceptions. While we talk of neglect by western and advanced countries towards the third world league of nations, the latter shares a fair aportionment of the blame as well. Some practices I noticed in the third world is that more often than not, assistance given by institutions like the World Bank had been subjected to abuses. Corruption is another perrenial problem. Political instability is a common face there as well.

    Thus no matter how much assistance may be given, as long as the establishment and administration in those countries are run by the wrong people, then we can never expect to be assurred that the masses will benefit from projects that were meant for them.

    And finally to Mr. Peter Tachell, please keep up your good fight. It's a humanitarian struggle that transcends all boundaries and barriers.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Kris MacPherson

  7. benazir shah from INDIA

    the author is done a fine job miss jeannie should know that democracy means to openly exress opinions. which are true with substantial evidence. Truth is indeed always bitter. and every oppressor has his or her day soon. and the white cruel revolution will end soon. inshallah . it has happened in history and it will happen again. america the pharoah of the 21st century is beginning to drown.

  8. benazir shah from INDIA

    Miss jeannie should realise that speaking the truth is democracy even if it aginst the white people truth is always bitter to hear. but it should be said no matter what. that is what gd wants us to do in this world . all human beings should not be dnied the basic rights of living, food water, clothing shelter, the white goverents of western countries jave no right to to destroy them the white revolution has given the world nothing but problems even with their technology which has benefited only minority in the world created an imbalance in evrything. and then they claim to have done miracles only for themselves and their benefit. the white house is called white house because it seems to be meant only for whites even until last few years they have subjugated mankind of different colors than them. but they dont see how their own families and lives are being self destroyed by their own follies. from spreading AIDS through polio vaccines in africa to creating weapons of mass destruction, creating immodesty , nudity ,and concentrating power in hands of rich they have not done anyhting much benficial. why do they send vaccines to areas in the world affected by floods and droughts and earthquakes rather than sendng medical supplies like antibiotics, surgeons maybe they are on medical mision to spread moreHIV thru vaccines of people who are suffering just like they did in Africa. and can have more control over world resources if most of the population was subjugated thru their evil designs and thru force .but they dont realise what almighty god has in store for them and hwat haoppens to nations before them miss jeannie should go down under the oceans and look at the cities , and read from biblical proofs as well as quranic proofs about the lost nations and the case for their downfall. america your down fall has already begun. stop imposing your rule democracy is what majority people want for themsleves.not waht you want for them for ur intersts

  9. Charles Jacks from USA

    The muslims can work toward bringing relief to the l'meskenaee b'rukh. For instance, you can use a small PV pannel to run a small motor. A crank on the motor can push a displacer in a device similar to a Sterling engine, solar heated. Instead of a power piston the device can compress humid air. Those that know their gas laws know that the partial pressure of the water vapor will go up in proportion to the compression. When the partial pressure of the water vapor goes above the condensation pressure at the temperature of the condenser, embedded in the dirty water, drinkable water will form. The still compressed air can be put into a genset, generator driven by a engine, to produce electricity. The cool dry air on the exhaust side of the genset can provide refrigeration before being directed over the dirty water to pick up moisture and restart the cycle. With a few more heat exchangers the cool air can pick up heat from the shelter, or ambiant air to increase evaporation of the dirty water and exchangers can be placed on the hot side to create hot water and heat the shelter.

    Note that the trick to optimization of distributed solar power is cogeneration. This device could provide potable water, heating, cooling, and refrigeration. All needed things in most homes, although there is a balance problem. Solar cooking is a bit more of a problem. I like the design of George Washington Carver's aladen oven. A great man who suffered for racism even to today.

  10. Jeannie Gillingham from United States

    I have no problem, and agree with your overall message. But, I feel some of your phrasing was stereotypical and racist. You shouldn't be telling people, that all white people are lacking of human emotion, or in anyway, wish for less fortunate people to starve. Neither should you say, that all non-white people are poor, and are drinking "shit" water. I apologize if my opinion offended you in any way. But, you ignorance frustrates me, and a close minded person like you, shouldn't have the authority to post an article like this online.

  11. Charles Jacks from usa

    I am afraid that the devolution of the west and particularly the US is about to go into a new phase. While the world has suffered under the possessed bully brats of the rich, it is about to descend into the darkness of leadership by the golem cha.