Atomic power
Marina Mansilla Hermann

The simple union between two atoms, hydrogen and oxygen, has had an enormous effect on the Earth from the most remote beginnings of life. Even now it exerts its power over the destiny of every living being aboard our planet.

It abounds in such excess in some parts of the world that it is hated and feared. Yet, in others, it has always been so scarce that it is at the heart of daily prayers and considered a blessing of God.

Water is the thread that knits together the web of life. It purifies and keeps our bodies healthy, provides us with food, is home to millions of living creatures, regulates the global climate, dilutes pollutants, and sustains every country’s economic wealth as the essential resource for our industries, agriculture and transportation.

Rights and responsibilities
We all have the same right to access the resources ‘lent’ to us by nature. But we are also all responsible for them, on behalf both of our present peers, and of future generations.

Despite being one of humanity’s most precious resources, water is appallingly administered and badly taken care of by most of us. We waste it and pollute it. We take no care of its delicate ecosystems or of the other creatures whose lives depend upon it. It is also scandalous that, here in Latin America, the poorest people have to pay more for clean water than the rich who have publicly piped supplies.

Obligation to all
Facilitating access to this resource where it is not sufficient must be an obligation on each government, enterprise and citizen. We need more efficient irrigation techniques and wells, and better sanitary conditions. Though costly, the investment required is not huge compared to the benefits that flow with water. Political will, training and education are essential. The commercialization of water is all very well but, even so, municipal distribution, and investing in better technologies and processing plants, should be part of the business of government, particularly in cities and large urban concentrations. Governments must regulate the water companies to ensure compliance with the highest standards of safety and cleanliness for all their citizens. The companies must be required to treat all the water distributed prior to returning it to its source.

A duty to others
As for ourselves, we the citizens have the greatest responsibility of all. We must not only compel our governments and corporations to make the provision of clean safe water for all their highest obligation: we must also put ourselves in the shoes of our poorest neighbours every time we turn on a tap – and consider what we, as a global family, are doing to help those who die every day for want of a drop of water

Marina Mansilla Hermann of Peace Child Argentina is a Student of Environmental Science at the Universidad Católica de Salta (Buenos Aires), Argentina.

PHOTOGRAPH: Alejandro Blas

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | World Environment Day | Water is life | The water century | Taking it at the flood | Renewing the commitment | Waterless cities | Keeping pollution at bay | People | At a glance | Changing agenda | Nor any drop to drink | Bridging troubled waters | Books & products | Getting there | Sinking fast | Waste not | Water – the poor’s priority | Atomic power

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Water, 1996
Issue on Freshwater, 1998

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Freshwater wetlands
Mangroves and estuaries