How Much is Too Much?
“Get out of the shower!” your little brother shouts as he bangs on the washroom door. “You’ve been in there for twenty minutes!”
The 20 minutes you spend in the shower, use up 400 liters of water. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, performed the Ghusl, a complete bath, with one Sa’of water—that’s just 1.6 liters.
Abu Jafar narrated, “While I and my father were with Jabir bin 'Abdullah, some people asked him about taking a bath. He replied, ‘A Sa' of water is sufficient for you.’A man said, ‘A Sa' is not sufficient for me.’Jabir said, ‘A Sa was sufficient for one who had more hair than you and was better than you [meaning the Prophet].”’(Bukhari).
The Current Picture
You may ask, “How is that possible? Taking a shower in six cups of water? The times sure have changed.” You’re right. The times have changed—the problem of water scarcity is worse today than during time of the Prophet. The question of possibilities uncovers our passive acceptance of the luxurious North American lifestyle. While the average Canadian uses 335 liters of water per day, the average sub-Saharan African uses 10 to 20 liters per day. It may seem impossible for us in North America, but in today’s world, the level of conservation practiced by the Prophet is necessary. These statistics may explain why:
- Less than one half of one percent of all water on earth is fresh water for human use. The rest is sea water or frozen in polar ice caps.
- 1.4 billion people, that’s 20% of the world’s population, lack access to an adequate supply of clean drinking water.
- Global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth.
- 31 countries currently face water scarcity.
- More than half the world’s major rivers are either polluted or drying.
- In developing countries, water causes 80% of illnesses. Each year 3 to 4 million people die of waterborne diseases.
- By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in conditions of water shortage and one-third will live in absolute water scarcity.
The problem is not the amount of water. The amount of water on earth remains constant. It doesn’t increase or decreaseand there is enough to meet everyone’s needs. The problem is unequal access and use.
Different regions of the world naturally hold different amounts of fresh water. India, for example, holds 20% of the world’s population but only 4% of its water. This natural division of water is easy for governments to overcome with the right technology. The problem of water scarcity arises when limited water is coupled with social inequalities and political agendas. Who gets access to a region’s water and how they use it is usually determined by who has power and money.
What we call man’s power over nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with nature as its instrument.
Water for Sale
Water is increasingly privatized by large transnational corporations who own it and sell it like a commodity. Hungry for profit, these corporations drive the price of water out of reach of poor people and deliver it to those wealthy individuals and industries that can pay for it. Only the wealthy who can install plumbing systems receive subsidized municipal water, leaving the poorest in developing countries to pay the highest price for water.
In Lima, Peru, for example, poor people pay private vendors up to $3 per cubic meter to collect contaminated water in buckets while the affluent pay 30 cents per cubic meter for treated water that pours out of taps in their homes. In India, some households spend 25% of their income on water. During drought, governments often reserve water for the elite who can pay for it.
Industries, also hungry for profit, require vast amounts of water. It takes 215 000 liters of water to produce one metric ton of steel.Industries purchase access to a region’s water at subsidized rates from the government. Most of the world’s freshwater is naturally stored under the ground. Industries pump this groundwater faster than it can replenish itself, causing the land to collapse and permanently destroying its ability to store water.
In the Arabian Peninsula, groundwater use is three times greater than recharge and at current rates of extraction, Saudi Arabia will reach total depletion in 50 years. In developing countries, industries dump 75% of their untreated wastes into local water bodies.When the environment is sufficiently damaged and water disappears, industries move elsewhere, leaving a region’s residents in scarcity.
The politics of power and money also determine which countries can secure water. Since most rivers and groundwater aquifers cross national boundaries, future conflicts in the world will likely involve water. In the early 1970s, Syria and Iraq almost went to war over the waters of the Euphrates when Syria built a dam at Tabaq, blocking a quarter of the river’s flow to Iraq.
Ten African countries share the waters of the Nile and each wants a share of the River. To protect its Nile water supply, Egypt repeatedly threatens to use its size, wealth and power go to war against Ethiopia, a country where water flows abundantly but millions starve to death each year. In 1978, for example, Egypt’s president stated, “any action that would endanger the water of the Blue Nile will be faced with a firm reaction on the part of Egypt, even if that action should lead to war.”
Where Do We Fit In?
The problem of water scarcity is not confined to the developing world. Its roots are connected to us and the way we live in North America. North Americans are the worst hoarders of water. While millions go without water, North Americans use 1,280 cubic meters of water per person every year; Europeans use 694; Asians use 535; South Americans use 311 and Africans use 186.
While North Americans can boast large water supplies- Canadacontains one quarter of the world’s freshwater- our extravagant habits won’t save us from danger for long. Water levels in the Great Lakes reached record lows in recent years. The Ogallala groundwater aquifer in the U.S. High Plains is depleted eight times faster than nature can replenish it, causing the land to drop at least a meter each year. Americans have dammed, diverted and polluted the Colorado River until little or no water reaches its destination at sea.
The extravagances of our North American lifestyle- lawn sprinklers, frequent car washes, sprawling golf courses, abundant swimming pools, dripping taps, and toilets that consume 18 liters of water per flush- fool us into believing we’re safe. They help us ignore the world’s water crisis or accept it with a shrug. The principle of “We have so it let’s use it now and think about the future later” prevails in most North American minds.
Consider Las Vegas, a city that receives 3.8 inches of rainfall in an average year—comparable to dry areas of Saudi Arabia and the Western Sahara. This desert city sparkles and splashes with the idea that water is limitless. The Hotel Luxor in Las Vegas boasts five-story waterfalls, shark tanks, a 1.3-million gallon dolphin pool and a miniature Nile River with a boat ride. A full-sized pirate ship sinks again and again into a man-made river that circles the Treasure Island Hotel. The Hotel Bellagio stands beside an eight-acre fake lake with hundreds of fountains spitting two hundred feet into the air. The city flaunts colossal fountains, golf courses, man-made lakes, swimming pools, and even a sailing club. According to Las Vegas Water Commissioner, Patricia Mulroy, each acre-foot of “decorative water” in the city generates 30 million dollars. Hence the saying, “Water flows uphill to money”.
How Do We Respond?
We live in the world’s most technically sophisticated society, yet we are now right back where we were three thousand years ago, praying for rain.
Every person on the planet has a right to adequate water. The Prophet said, “People are co-owners in three things: water, fire and pasture” (Abu Dawud).
Iyas Ibn Abd narrated that the Prophet forbade the sale of excess water (Abu Dawud).
Ideally, basic water needed for survival should be free, equally available to everyone and legally protected from waste and contamination. Current global practices and policies are obviously unjust.
For Muslims, natural resources are a trust from Allah and we are accountable for their care and use. The Prophet said, "the world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you as His stewards over it. He sees how you acquit yourselves..." (Muslim).
We are also responsible for halting injustices we see around us, as the Quran outlines:
Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity (3:104).
Yet, as individuals we have little control over international water politics and policies. How then should we respond to the global water crisis? Here are ways to begin:
1- Don’t lose hope:
Although the situation looks bleak, don’t let it depress you. The Quran tells us that Allah is the Creator of all things and He is guardian over all things (39:62).
You and I are only responsible for making an effort. Allah takes care of the results. He knows what’s best for us and He is the Most Just, whether that justice comes in this life or in the Next.
2- Be grateful:
Allah granted North Americans an abundant supply of fresh, clean water without any effort from us. Allah asks us in the Quran,
Have you considered the water which you drink? Is it you that send it down from the clouds, or are We the senders? If We pleased, We would have made it salty; why do you not then give thanks? (56:68-70).
Say: Have ye thought: If (all) your water were to disappear into the earth, who then could bring you gushing water? (67:30).
Water is not simply “there”and it doesn’t “fall by itself”. As we read in numerous verses of the Quran, Allah “sends down water from the sky”. Allah is the only one that can continue our supply of water and if He wishes, He can remove it any time.
3- Get involved:
Raise awareness among your friends and family. Participate in efforts, such as letter-writing campaigns to lobby the government over its international decisions. Join conservation groups in your area that protect local water sources. Many organizations look for volunteers to clean-up river-banks, monitor water quality, or educate school groups.
4- Change your habits:
Although we can’t always control the actions of governments, we can control our own use of water. Allah rewards us for every step we take towards change. Resist the North American habit to overuse and waste water. The Quran tells us:
…Do not squander (your wealth) wastefully. Surely the squanderers are the fellows of the Devils (17:26).
Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters. (7:31).
Just because we have abundant water, doesn’t mean we should use it. The Prophet made this clear when he said: “Excess in the use of water is forbidden, even if you have the resources of a whole river” (Tirmidhi).
Begin to fulfill your trust and responsibility towards Allah by conserving the water you use at home.
Ten Easy Ways You Can Conserve Water
- Don't use your toilet as a wastebasket or flush it unnecessarily. Toilets consume a quarter of our municipal water supply and use 40% more water than needed.
- Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth or soap dishes.
- Keep a bottle of drinking water in the fridge. Don’t run your tap for cold water.
- Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when they are full.
- Check pipes and faucets for leaks and get them fixed. Many homes lose more water from leaky taps than they need for cooking and drinking.
- Install low-flow shower heads and flow-restrictors on faucets. A 5-minute shower with a standard shower head uses 100 liters of water while a low-flow shower head uses 35 liters of water.
- Water your lawn every third day or less and water during the cool times of the day.
- Sweep patios and sidewalks, don’t hose them.
- Limit pesticides on your lawn to prevent them from reaching our water supply.
- Drive less! It takes approximately 10 liters of water to produce a liter of gasoline.
“It is He [Allah] who has placed you as viceroys of the Earth and has exalted some of you in rank above others, that He may try you by that which He has given you. Surely your Lord is quick in prosecution, and He is most surely the Forgiving, the Merciful” (Quran, 6:165).
Shehnaz Toorawa is a freelance writer living in Mississauga, Canada. She is a teacher with degrees in education, geography and professional writing from the University of Toronto. She also holds a degree in Islamic Studies from the American Open University. Shehnaz is an active homeschooling mother.
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