Water is more valuable than gold
In many parts of the world people are proud of their rivers, streams, and creeks. They speak of them with veneration, they have composed songs about them (e.g., A. Dvorak’ “The Moldau”), written stories about them (e.g., Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi”) and expressed in poetic verse how water hurtles down deep gorges, caresses the fingers of the weary hiker, and bathes the pebbles in soft murmur. But the reality in many countries is more than often far less romantic. That polluted waterways can, indeed, be “turned around” I have seen in Europe and Japan. When I first visited Japan in the 60s, some rivers I saw were filthy, disgustingly black and used as dumps for all kinds of garbage. And now? Not a trace of foreign objects; totally cleared up. Elsewhere in the world, however, it’s still bad.
Used as a city’s dump, the “garbage bin” of civilization, some waterways (and I don’t want to single out some from Manila or India, China, or some South American countries) still have to cope with all sorts of introduced wastes and what little fish and other life remains is relentlessly pursued with evermore refined equipment to end in the stomachs of a greedy population. Industrial pollution and foreign objects like tires, cans, bottles, bicycles, plastic bags, etc. are one problem (and show up as a huge amount when a waterway is drained); the entry of sewage in many especially developing countries is another.
In the absence of or the inadequacy of existing sewerage and garbage disposal systems, the network of streams often serves as ‘open sewers’ for the fluid and solid wastes from markets and settlements in many parts of the world. Some of the smaller streamlets are literally chocked with rotting debris. Sewage itself is nothing but organic matter and so is a large proportion of the wastes, e.g., bamboo baskets, paper and cardboard, vegetable peels and animal remains. As long as not too much plastic is mixed into it such organic matter finds use as manure to increase the fertility of crop fields, but when too much organic matter is released into an aquatic system it results in increased bacterial activity to break down the organic surplus. This breaking down process needs oxygen. As a result the oxygen level of the water falls sharply. The demand of the oxygen in the water is expressed as the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD). BOD-values in natural waters should not exceed 4, but in highly polluted streams actually reach 40.
In such polluted areas stones are coated with a slimy and smelly layer of sewage bacteria: the only hardy invertebrates to survive in putrid deoxygenated water are some highly specialized invertebrates like rattail larvae, some disease-causing protozoans, bacteria and roundworms, parasites that give rise to one enteric disorder or another. Such kind of water, in summary, is unfit for human use, sadly reflecting the fact that the poetic descriptions of earlier eras have “gone down the drain” of urbanization disguised as ‘progress’. I wrote this essay in the hope that people who live near streams and rivers see it as their duty to look after them, for life depends on water, clean water that is. And now I have a bath. Cheers!
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2017.
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