It’s a Tiny Planet

The image above is the town in which I live, panoramic photos taken only one block away, rolled up into one tiny planet. It is meant to illustrate how at-home our thinking is when we neglect to think about the larger environment in which we find ourselves. We confine our thinking to the immediate, the how and what that affects us personally. I am guessing that the majority of inhabitants in my town are very unaware of the statistics I found and printed below. Unaware, because it is not happening to them or affecting them directly.

I write about water often, and am lucky to live in a place that has an abundance of fresh water. When you consider statistics from around the globe, the use and misuse of water becomes alarming. I came upon this chart that drives the message home.

Chart from A World Without Water, a blogger who is a Civil Engineer from Jadavpur University, Kolkata.

Makes you think, right, when you look at water usage in the US compared to say, Mozambique. The water crisis is not only one of unmitigated scarcity, but one of poor land management and inequitable distribution, worldwide.

In the US, the average American uses up to 175 gallons of water a day, but this estimate does not include the amount of water necessary to clothe or feed us. Thankfully, it is less per capita than twenty years ago, but it is still eye-opening.

One thing is astonishingly a given: the water crisis is getting alarmingly more severe. The lack of fresh, clean water, threatens the economy and human health in about 80 countries.

So much so, that 40 % of the world’s population do not have immediate access to clean water or clean living conditions in many areas, both remote and proportionally, highly populated.

There are many videos of the suffering in these countries. One, and a good source of information is, A World Without Water. When you reduce this concern to numbers, it becomes a worrisome consternation. This video is a very hard video to watch because of the stark reality of the struggle of humans. Much turmoil is caused by the exploitation, privatization and commercialization of water. In addition, big corporations set up factories draining local aquifers and depriving farmers and families of what should be a right to life.

Think about that in terms of poverty. Almost two in every three people needing protected drinking water subsist on less than $2 a day, and to further delve into the depths of poverty,  one in three lives on less than $1 a day. About a billion people across the globe do not have ready access to safe water; meaning, they must walk long distances to retrieve it everyday. Just consider that millions of women and children spend several hours a day collecting water from far and often polluted wells.

The lack of potable water has increased the use of waste water for farming. Consider for a moment that about 10 percent of the world’s people consume foods irrigated by waste water containing chemicals or disease-causing organisms. Every day an estimate of 3900 children die as a result of insufficient or unclean water, where the lack of potable water can increase the risk of cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other infections. But simple diarrhea is the lead cause of death of the young.

The situation can only get worse as water gets evermore scarce due to extremes in weather, land reuse and misuse, contamination and dead zones, and of course, the highly debated climate change; these being only a few cited examples.

This scarcity pressures people into stockpiling water in their homes, which increases the risk of contamination and inadvertently creates breeding grounds for mosquitoes. These vectors are carriers of dengue, malaria and other diseases. Not to mention the dangers of the reuse of plastic containers leaching carcinogens, like DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), a plasticizer or softener for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Sometimes you have to wonder about things that have become so engrained in our culture for the sake of ease and convenience, like in the US. But certainly there is no convenience in walking miles to fill up a plastic jug for a days worth of precious water in Bolivia if you are a peasant there.

3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease, according to the World Health Organization in 2008. In fact, WHO is a great source of frightening, mind changing statistics.

It is simple to realize that for those of us with a 24 hour supply, that there are those that water is a luxury. It is time to start doing the little things, where if millions of us that save water daily contribute and conserve, possibly we can make a difference for our very future. And it is our future that will be affected eventually. Estimates have water being priced per gallon higher than the price of gas in the future.

There are many possible ‘solutions’  proposed to get water where it is needed, as using and transporting glaciers from Antarctica. They would be dragged by special tracker ships and would ensure water for the arid countries around the world. The problem is that much of the glacier would melt before reaching its destination. And another problem to consider, glaciers are endemic to a region, and not to mention, are melting at alarming rates currently.  Do we really want to further disturb an environment experiencing its own imminent stress?

One project that has some merit is transporting water in water bags, but this positions bulk transfer of water solidly as a commodity. The problem with this scenario, is that water goes where there is purchasing power and not necessarily where it is needed most.

Another solution would be the capture of aquifer layers. This too has its own inherent ecological ramifications, considering that water in some has been there a very long time and what does draining them do in the balance of things. Or, what Coca Cola has arguably done in Bolivia in the documentary film, A World Without Water, causing water to be drained from villages and towns, leaving people without.

And we still do not know the effects long-term of what we are discharging in the water. Experiments revealed that estrogen mimicking chemicals from waste water cause reproductive issues in fish and amphibians. And fish are aquatic life on which we depend.

The water crisis has led to strained situations and conflicts worldwide. Tension erupts as countries divert.  You may ask how our planet which has 70 percent of its surface covered in water could face a water crisis. More than 97 percent of that water is ocean water. Of the remaining three percent, about three-quarters is locked away in ice caps or glaciers, and is basically unavailable. The fresh water is unequally distributed in areas that are inhabited. This is kind of a key point too, that people chose some of these places to set up home, and had to create ways to get water to them, like diverting rivers and the such.

Water is an emotive issue, about rights and health, tempered by politics. But ultimately, the commercialization of water not only takes it away from people, but from the rest of life, the trees, animals and microbes as well. And in doing so it is like the corporations are rewriting the laws of life. The rights of some are lost for the rights of other. And how did water become a right or a privilege? When it became a supply and demand scenario.

So, what does this have to do with gardening, you might ask? Most of you know the answer to this one. It lies in our planting practices and our conservation methods, much of what we do already. Oh, and you can save money too, always a personal plus.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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38 Responses to It’s a Tiny Planet

  1. Donna says:

    Bravo…incredible post Donna…I have been thinking how much I want it to rain here…we have had little rain in my little corner here but all the rain from the winter and spring sustains my garden except for the veg garden…of course I have lots of containers but I have been thinking of cutting back on them too…I have been meaning to write a post on rain gardens and have not had a chance…coming soon though….thx for this stark but necessary reminder of how lucky we are even when we think we are in a bit of a drought…

    • Donna, this last two weeks without rain was what prompted me seeing sprinklers going nonstop for the last two weeks. Really, we are not that dry, but the grass is browning, and I let it take its natural course.

  2. linniew says:

    Like so many essentials (health care, drugs, education, energy) the cost of water shouldn’t include a corporate profit and profit motivations. Excellent graphic post and timely in the summer. Thanks!

  3. Greggo says:

    water is the next oil.

  4. THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!!!! Water conservation is a huge issue in my garden because our summer rainfall is unpredictable and city water is expensive. I even save my cooking water to give to my plants. The starch from pasta/potatoes acts as a gentle fertilizer. I teach a big unit on water every year and my students don’t believe me when I tell them how polluted our local waterways are and how millions of people don’t have access to clean water. They just can’t visualize it since their homes are full of water bottles. I’m going to order the documentary. If I can’t show it to the kids, it will at least further educate me.

    • The documentary is free to view online, I imagine you can purchase it also. I posted the full length version, link. I was going to embed the excerpt, but the hour long version was so engaging that I thought people should have a look. There is a bit of swearing in the video, and of course it is from Americans that had their water turned off for nonpayment. So you may want to have a look or edit the film to avoid the end where this occurs for the kids.

      I too do the same as you. All water used for boiling gets cooled and reused on plants. I do many things to conserve, and I hope to think they add up.

  5. well done Donna, the ditch at the front of my house is dry just now and my ditch garden too, I don’t water it as I want to encourage roots to go searching for water lower down, the burn/small river near me is low, we had a dry April, wet May and early June now it’s dry again, I though only have to go into my kitchen and turn on the tap I can’t imagine what it would be like (as it was years ago) if we were relying on the ditch and river for our water, the radio garden programmes I listen too frequently talk about using drought tolerant plants, also water butts, I remember as a child an aunt lived in a house with a rain butt on the roof that flushed the loo, all the local houses on the estate had this they were built in the 30’s so simple yet not used in building today, Frances

    • I could not imagine walking to retrieve water. I never saw a rain butt. I do have plants that like it dry, but some like it moist and they suffer a bit. Like my Monarda for instance. I have not been watering it and I am seeing how long it can go before mildew sets in. The phlox is getting powdery mildew already and we have only had this hot weather for a few weeks. It is my own fault too, I did not thin the phlox out in over two years.

  6. Janet says:

    Fascinating post Donna. I was particularly concerned bout pesticides such as aminopyralid getting into the water.And out government have allowed it in again after previous bans. It does awfull things to your potoatoes! can you believe potatoes here re sprayed on aver age of 14 times with pesticides.
    On the water front we have more than enough in Scotland now after a dry couple of months. Water exports will be next on the big business agenda!
    BTW love the photo must try that.

  7. b-a-g says:

    Thanks for this post Donna. I never thought of my water consumption as being excessive till I became a gardener and started using a hose-pipe. I only water in my garden when it looks like a plant needs it and I never water grass.

  8. Soren says:

    I may have mentioned it before, but I am fortunate enough never to have to use potable water in my garden. We have a small stream at the back of the garden, and this drains the local forest so the water is even enriched with nutrients of all sorts that I’m sure must be good for our plants. That said, I only really water in connection with planting and sowing; once plants have been given a home in my garden they more or less have to fend for themselves…

    • You do have a fortuitous situation. I water only when certain plants that are less drought tolerant start to droop. I have many plants that prefer it dry, but not my delphiniums. Once they grow in more full, I should not have a problem with them. They were only planted late last year in the front bed, so they need time to fill in a bit and shade their roots with the foliage. They grow tall, but not as sturdy and need to be staked. I am not one for staking. They have to tough it out on their own in my garden. First year yes, but not after.

  9. We’re hitting a heat wave and a summer drought here in the Midwest, so it has me thinking about overuse of water, too. I’m trying to capture rain water more and I plan to use rain chains draining into an urn in the near future. We try to cut back on mowing and watering the lawn during these dry spells. It’s hard to neglect the potted plants, but a lot of the perennials can take a little drought. It’s a challenge, though. Thanks for a great post!

    • Like you, I have not mowed in two and a half weeks. The grass is a little shaggy and browning some, but not mowing keeps it healthier during the dry times. The perennials for the most part are doing fine except the the delphiniums are sulking. I did collect rain water, but it is against ordinances to divert the gutters. Another reason is for mosquitoes. It is not allowed to have sitting water.

      • hmm, but you have a pond Donna isn’t that sitting water? you can get covered rain butts here that capture roof water from the down pipe at the top with an over flow pipe back into the down pipe for when it is full so no open water, it is raised off the ground with a tap at the bottom, no chance for mossies, Frances

        • At home the fountain is moving water and at the farm the koi pond circulates with a large waterfall. The lake at the farm is so big, but the mosquitoes are like the size of sparrows. Just kidding, but they are monster size. Rain butts sound like a good idea. I have only seen the cheap rain barrels here and I had one with the overflow being discharged into the driveway. But I had a complaint about it to the city. That is the problem living so close to neighbors, they know EVERYTHING you are doing.

  10. andrea says:

    Hi Donna, i am very very happy for this post. In this part of the world we are always trying to conserve water because even if we have lots of rains, there are places which really cannot even get clean water for drinking for lack of funds in making facilities for them. Just like in our home case, we lack water during the dry season but we cannot conserve rainwater because we dont have the funds to make storage tanks, etc, etc.

    I wish you will post next the statistics of fuel consumption by countries, and i think it follows the trend for water. That means that country produces most toxic greenhouse gases to our atmosphere and also using most of our water. Amazing! Because you have more readers, your post will make a difference! Thank you.

    • Very good correlation Andrea. I think I know the country producing the worse toxic greenhouse gases, but would have to research it to make sure. I was really rather stunned how many countries are in this position. We take water availability for granted in this country. But some of the farmers still use well water that is running dry. So it happens here to an extent. The difference is economics. It is more likely in the US not to have to be without.

      • andrea says:

        hahaha, i love that phrase “not to have to be without”. In dry summer months i stand on big basin to contain my used water in taking a bath. This is recycled to water some plants near the house, while the other plants just look at the more favored ones with envy. I pity them but i can’t do otherwise. Trees suffer most as they need a lot. If only i can have some water impounding structures, but that is difficult because our parent material is near surface and drilling with heavy equipment is impossible because of cost. Only big cities have this equipment.

  11. TufaGirl says:

    Great posting. I can go on and on about your topic. From our lack of rain, aquifer limitations and new-comers lack of respect of such, how my neighbors are using the hose to clean stuff into my loft garden… My favorite story is that of the Jewel (the singer – not a fan but love her story of survival) and her charity The Clear Water Project.

    • Sounds like you have neighbor concerns. I’d say welcome to city living. You are in close proximity and share your garden space with your neighbors right? Well here, neighbors treat your property like their own if you don’t stake the claim with a fence. Kids used to use my garden as a thoroughfare to get to school, the mailman and paperboy cut across the grass, one neighbor used my backyard to get to the other neighbor’s pool, parties spilled over into my yard, and after many years of this, a fence went up. My whole landscape is a defensive design to make people respect the property and it worked pretty well.

  12. Barbie says:

    Bravo – what a eye-opening post and getting us all who can read this post to look at where we can preserve this precious gift. Let us not look back at the ways we wasted our water! We must act – all of us!

  13. Great post! It is interesting that the small country of Mexico is way up near the top of the list. Is it the resorts? I read somewhere that in the coming years water will become a very hot commodity. And I am always disppointed to see irrigation systems running when it is raining or right after a rain. It really does not take much to pay attention to the weather patterns. We have so much information easily available to us. Our ancestors did not have all of these conveniences when they were gardening for food and life.

    • I thought that too about Mexico. I thought the UK would be higher too. It has been reported on that water will be traded. The economists know so much in respect to what trends lie ahead, but even a laymen can see we are headed for many shortages of many necessities or things we take for granted as convenience. I too cringe at the sprinklers. With my job, I have to design them in because a client always does not want what makes sense or is reasonable to plant. Or has a huge green carpet. That is how I got so many oddball plants at my house. I could not see trashing them for wanting something that belongs somewhere else. At least at my house, they get the best they can under the circumstance. That is why I have so many hydrangea, and the roses too. They lived elsewhere at first.

  14. Excellent post raising questions that will be faced by every country at some point. I do my part to educate my nursery customers not to buy plants that need supplemental water once they are established. I don’t sell any of those plants either. We are blessed with adequate rain most of the time, and most suitable plants can survive even a prolonged drought in our area. Besides watering is just not necessary. How did we come to believe that it is an essential part of gardening?

    • Sooner than we think to face the music. Watering is mostly necessary for plants that are not native to a local. Mulch and compost can only do so much for keeping roots cool and moist. I have many perennials that live in dryer conditions and I thought I was going to lose them in our wet spring. But none succumbed and now they are doing great without supplemental watering. Our area is either feast or famine.

  15. Racquel says:

    A educational and very eye-opening post. I’ve tried to be more conservative with my water usuage by installing rain barrels to collect the free water that runs off our roofs, investing in energy efficient dishwasher & washing machine that use 75% less water and taking shorter showers. We can all make a difference. 🙂

  16. Bom says:

    Excellent post to close your first year of blogging. I don’t know if you’ve read my posts that explain why I rarely feature my garden. I don’t have a proper one in the sense that I do not have much ground. Although water is not too much of an issue where I live now, it used to be. The previous owner of our lot thought it best to just cement the space around the house rather than have a garden that would succumb to lack of water. When we purchased the house, we knew that the water supply would improve in a few months so it was accepted that for a short time after moving in, we experienced water shortage as well. We had to purchase our water for daily living. About USD7 for a full tank that would last our household about 5 days. This explains my choice of airplants and mostly drought tolerant plants.

    Now, even if water flows freely, we are very cautious how we use it. The gutters have been rerouted to drain into collecting systems and we take advantage of all that cement by placing large barrels (I know, ruins the aesthetics) around the house when we expect typhoons and storms. The water we collected lasted us through the summer months. Still, we will be making minor adjustments in our collections system to make things more efficient. Once we’ve saved up enough for renovations, we plan on installing a tank for grey water as well.

    • I had to answer you right away. I laughed when you mentioned you have little ground. Unless you are in a townhouse, I might rival you for little gardening space, even though I pack in the plants. The photos always make it look bigger because I know what angles to make it look that way. My back garden is 2o feet by 2o feet, the same size as my garage. Then there is a section 3.5 feet wide along the fence to a back door. Another ‘garden’ along a fence is only 16 inches wide. I know some gardeners have smaller, but with the gardens I design being measured in acres, it seems small to me. And your barrels… I have five large mulch bins in my yard most of the time. Talk about a spot ruining the view! But I would rather compost than worry about how the garden presents. If I could collect rainwater, they would be there too.

      As for buying water like this, I can not imagine. Even when I was in the remote mountains of Costa Rica, we had water running all the time. I was so surprised how many countries have a shortage of water. It makes me wonder how little people here know and care what happens elsewhere. I love your idea for the reuse of grey water. I would love to be able to employ this and the rain water collection. But city ordinances prevent it. Gutters must drain into the storm sewer, which in our city, is also the sanitary sewer too. And, air plants are COOL!

      • Bom says:

        I really don’t have much ground. 😀 I have a lot of space but it is at least 90% cement. Everything in pots or mounted and hanging or in shelves (yes, shelves). You are a great photographer then because I did think you had this really big garden.

        i guess if you have never had a problem with water supply then I understand why your city ordinances would not address water conservation.

  17. Thanks for opening the comments again Donna. This is an excellent and very thought-provoking post. I must admit to being surprised that the UK comes out relatively well in terms of per capita water use, as I think we should be doing much, much more. Building legislation could play a big part in the developed world. If all new buildings had to be built with rainwater recovery systems, and had to use recycled grey water for flushing toilets, it would make a huge difference. It would also bring down the cost of the technologies. As gardeners we can all play our part by watering wisely where we have to and making sure that any plants in the ground are chosen to survive the conditions without irrigation. At least that would also encourage people to plant more native plants as a by-product. My current shame is that by growing large numbers of tomatoes in pots on the patio, they need watering every day. Mostly I can use rainwater, but it does run out, and then it is tap water. I hope for a larger greenhouse or polytunnel so that I can plant in the ground, which will help a little, but better rainwater recovery so that I can store more than the current 400 litres is becoming really important to me. We should all care, passionately, about this, otherwise we will see water wars.

    • Thanks Janet for commenting and adding your thoughts. In architecture school, we learned all about water recovery methods. We took tours to waste plants doing recovery as well. Plus they were also doing huge composting projects. That was in 1990 that I was there and graduated, but it showed how they were making efforts to reuse and recover back then. We also went to recycling plants for paper and cans to watch how the process is done. We had very ecologically and environmentally trained professors. It was to instill in us to use materials wisely and help promote adaptive reuse procedures. I always was very conscious of our natural resources because i look at them almost as a gift, and something we should actually respect or revere. I am not a tree hugger, but darn close. And water always seemed the ultimate needing our protection.

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