The Collegian
Tuesday, May 17, 2022


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Bottle up your unnecessary spending

"Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

One of the most famous lines in poetry, from English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," is eerily applicable and ironic to the world's struggle to find clean water.

I read Katie Toussaint's column, "The Truth about Tap Water" from last week, and I agree with and applaud her. Bottled water is something many people do not think twice about. It is everywhere, in every store, all the time.

But it is time to wean ourselves from buying crates upon crates of pre-packaged, pre-bottled water, when there is clean, pure and safe water flowing from the faucets in the U.S.

I admit, as a recent aluma, I know the wonders a bottle of water can do the morning after a night of raging at the lodges. But the effects of buying bottled water in the U.S. are turning out to be far more damaging than a slight hangover.

I am currently living in Nairobi, Kenya, working at a non-profit organization doing journalism/public relations. I have lived in Africa before, having spent time in Malawi and South Africa during high school, so I am fully aware of the water situation in many countries around the world.

All of the travel guides and doctors stress the importance of drinking purified water for fear of infection and worst of all, gastro-intestinal disorders and worms. Yes, that's right -- worms. It is quite possibly the biggest fear of mine at the moment.

At first glance, Nairobi is seemingly cosmopolitan and one of Africa's most modern cities. As a hotspot for eco-tourism through safaris, there are plenty of American and Western influences throughout the metropolitan area. Though I have only been living in Nairobi for six weeks, I am certainly not the next Karen Blixen from "Out of Africa."

I constantly have to think about water. I have to drink enough water to stay hydrated at a higher altitude. I have to drink enough water so that my malaria medicine does not give me hallucinations. I have to drink enough water, to put it simply, to live. But I am not the only one.

In my flat, I have to boil and filter water from the tap. Here, I have to use the now-clean water to do everything: brush teeth, cook, drink. When I lived in the University Forest Apartments last year, the only time I boiled water was when I cooked mac & cheese late-night, and the only time I filtered water was when the Brita in our fridge was out of water.

Bottled water in Nairobi is, for the most part, easy enough to come by. There are gallons upon gallons available at nearly every kiosk, market and shop. Yet it is not accessible to those who need it the most.

The worth of Kenya's national currency, the Kenyan shilling, has fallen drastically in recent weeks. As of Tuesday Oct. 4, the exchange rate is $1 equals 102.05 Ksh. Conversely, 1 Ksh equals one cent, according to the Daily Nation.

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Most Kenyans earn about 100 Ksh per day, and bottled water can cost 500 Ksh for a five-liter jug. This predicament leaves many Kenyans the only option of boiling and filtering their water, if they can even afford that.

There are more than one million people living in Kibera, Kenya's largest informal settlement (slum) and the second largest informal settlement in Africa, and there is no running water, according to Lonely Planet.

The lack of running water wreaks havoc upon the millions of people living in Kibera and those living in similar settlements around the world. When you see pictures of children with distended bellies, hollowed eyes, protruded ribs and skinny arms and legs, it is because they are malnourished. They are infected with colds and possibly HIV/AIDS ,and infested with worms. If they had access to clean, cheap water, then thousands of children would be alive today.

The tap water in Kenya is not clean. Yet for many, that is all that is available. The only true form of clean water in Kenya is bottled water,where it is not an unnecessary luxury as in the U.S., but an expensive necessity for a clean, healthy and safe life.

The U.S. and other Western nations need not give countries hand-outs of water purifying tablets, but rather, the countries and those governing need to take the initiative to clean the country's water for its citizens.

The issue of water for the world cannot be summed up in the space of this column. I understand that the water bottle companies want to turn a profit. I support the capitalistic nature of our culture and society. But something has to be done about access to water worldwide. I certainly do not have an answer to this dilemma, however, we must act now because water worldwide is becoming scarce.

When I return home in a year, I will think twice before I buy a bottle of water in the U.S., when I can simply fill up my Nalgene with the clean, pure (and sometimes free) tap water. Take comfort in the fact that you know that there are no worms swimming microscopically in your American tap water, for that is not the case for millions around the world.

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