Monday, October 20, 2008

The Aqua Powwow

I was attending a tour briefing and the tour instructor said: "As a general rule, when you are outside Singapore, do not drink water from the tap. It is not safe."

He is right. Many countries are still struggling with the issues of clean and potable water. It was a battle we fought for decades before we are where we are now.

Life without pipe-in water and flush toilets is totally unacceptable to us today. But, about 4 decades ago, such convenience was not to be taken for granted.

The garbage disposal system back then was simple: you collect the trash here and dump it there. It was a mere shifting of garbage and 'refuse treatment system' was unheard of.

Human waste was handled is a manner beyond the imagination of the younger Singaporeans. Forget about flush toilets. Sanitary amenity was a primitive removable 'bucket-below-a-hole' system. Workers had to collect these buckets and dump the contents into designated 'soil pool'. This was usually done in the evening and hence the term 'nightsoil'. I shall not describe the process and I will leave it to your imagination.

Drains were our curbside dustbins. Out of habit and convenience, food waste and refuse were dumped into these drains. Choked and stinking drains were sadly part of the dismal street-scape in the 1960s.

The Singapore River was a giant collector of unwanted stuff, which either dissolved into the water, went down to the riverbed or stayed afloat. The sight and smell were simply unbearable. The thought of dipping in there for a swim is enough to make me barf.

40 years later and after spending tens of billions, we now have one of the most enviable environmental success. Splendid job!

While we are proud that those past evils are now behind us, it's timely to talk about some modern sins.

Today, our tap water is potable, which means you can drink straight from the taps. Notwithstanding that, many of us still stick to the safer routine of have our drinking water boiled first. We always want to be sure. When we are in doubt, we prefer bottled water.

Is bottled water always better than tap water?

Do not be surprised that after paying more for bottled water, some actually gives you more pollutants than tap water. At least, a recent report from the USA has confirmed that.

We have been repeatedly presented with advertisements for bottled water showing pristine mountain springs. It is no surprise that we have been brain-washed to think that bottled water is pure and unadulterated. The reality is that the water often comes from city supplies.

Now, do you see 'naive' in 'evian'? If you don't, (I'm sorry) you probably are naive.

In the same report, it was found that 10 top-selling brands of bottled water contained a total of 38 pollutants, including fertilisers, industrial chemicals, bacteria and the residue of drugs such as Tylenol (a pain relief drug). On an average, the bottled water showed 8 pollutants in each sample.

Perhaps, after they are done with melamine testing, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) can conduct some checks on our numerous types of bottled water found on the supermarket shelves.

Even if the AVA gives a green light, you might not want to totally dismiss the drinkability of our tap water. If we drink less bottled water, we discard less plastic and we help to prolong the life of Mother Earth.

We have come from a backwater town to a sparkling metropolis and we do not want to go back there again. The green journey is a never ending one. We all have a role to play.

Love our Earth ! It is the only one we have ...


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