Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Drop of World Water Day From Zhongshan, China

Yesterday at a blt supermarket in Zhongshan, China, I was reminded that today, March 22, is World Water Day.

"12% off" sale for a selection of bottled water at BLT in Zhongshan

Like a recent promotion in Zhongshan on International Women's Day, I question whether it appropriately reflects the day's spirit. A sale of relatively expensive waters from around the world on a day partly focused on finding ways more people can have access to any sort of safe water doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. But I guess I shouldn't complain. I visited this particular supermarket specifically due to its unusual-for-Zhongshan selection of carbonated water and saved a few RMB.

Although carbonated water is a treat for me here, in Zhongshan I always drink bottled water. I wouldn't feel safe regularly drinking tap water in China.

Finding clear and reliable numbers on China's water safety can be challenging. For example, although a 2014 report by the World Health Organization and Unicef indicates China has made notable strides in the number of people with access to improved drinking sources, this is largely based on the assumption that having piped water on premises is better. The report doesn't address whether the tap water in China is actually safe. Even by China's own standards, though, much of its water is bad. Incidents of severe water contamination are obviously not positive signs and some experts are highly suspicious of tap water. Other experts argue that China's approach to improving water access and water quality largely through a "infrastructure-focused approach" is misguided and should instead "focus on cleaning water sources and recycling water".

When I wonder about the reliability of the bottled water I drink and the amount of tap water I have ingested indirectly through prepared foods, I am not sure how much I have accomplished. One of the things I enjoy during my trips to the U.S. is drinking and using water straight from the tap without worry. This is one respect where I would say most Americans don't appreciate how good they have it.

For more about something that is so important yet easy for some to take for granted, see Tariq Khokhar's "5 reasons why water is key to sustainable development" and David Sim's "World Water Day 2015: Photos to make you think twice about wasting this precious resource". The latter includes a number of striking images from China and elsewhere providing more reason to appreciate regular access to safe water, especially if it as close as the kitchen sink.

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