Water, the source of development

Motto: “The history of water is seemingly the history of trivialities and yet, water is a matter of life and death. The future of water is a strategic question.” (László Somlyódy, 2002.)

There is no life without water – this is an unquestionable truth for everybody, but has anyone ever thought of the fact that without water there is no development, either?

Talking either about the basic fact that water is essential for the development of plants, or the ingenious inventions of later ages, we have to admit that water significantly determines our lives. One has only to take a look at world history to see that from ancient Mesopotamia to Egypt and China, every great culture, civilisation had evolved and survived at places where the proximity of waters and rivers ensured life and development. Rivers and seas were used for travelling and trade, cutting distances and exploring new worlds, which most of the time resulted in a leap forward.

In ancient Egypt water was curbed, flood and ebb were made to serve man, irrigation systems were constructed on the Nile to produce food in the desert and the strength of the river was utilized to transport rocks and wood to monumental construction sites. The Greek poet, Antipaterin praised water mills in his epigram dating back to B.C. declaring that it spares men from arduous work. The perfection, the thorough planning and durability of the Roman water system is admired even by contemporary engineers, while many nations should be grateful to the former empire for the spreading of bath culture. But we do not have to look for examples from only such far-away lands, the scene of Budapest Water Summit 2013 had for centuries been a crossing place on the Danube and that was the very reason why Pest, as a fast developing city of commerce had become the centre of the country.

Point du Gard, an aqueduct from the Roman era in the southern part of France

Man used water not only to make his life easier, to take the heavy workload off his shoulders or to clean his body. In almost all religions water means something that creates value, helps betterment i.e. promotes development. The role of the Great Flood in the Sumerian mythology or later, in Christianity, is purification, enabling the worthy to survive and to live in a better world on a higher level of development. The ritual washing compulsory before prayers for the Muslims, the ritual washing in a mikveh before converting to Judaism, the ritual cleansing of Hindus in the water of the River Ganges or the Water Festival of Buddhists when they sprinkle each other with water welcoming the new and hopefully better year, all reflect the belief that we improve, become more precious and can take a step forward with the help of water.

West view from the Nile of the Temple of Isis

Water has played an indispensible role not only in our spiritual development, but also in improving our everyday lives. Let us just think of the most well-known example, the steam engine, which had turned the world of humanity upside down with making water serve the carrying out of our everyday chores. We might also mention power stations using the strength of waves to generate electricity, without which we would be able to satisfy our ever increasing energy needs only with burning ever more fossil fuels. We could also mention the theory that it is possible to gain energy from water. This theory keeps the scientists excited, alas is still just a theory, but if realized could answer many of our current problems.

But one should not forget that at the same time water is one of the greatest challenges of our lives, posing problems like droughts, floods, their unpredictable variations, river-control, climate change, melting glaciers and the examples could go on. It is truly difficult to believe that ten thousand children under the age of 5 die daily of illnesses due to polluted waters. Currently, more than a billion people live on earth without access to healthy water, and in 5 years’ time half of humanity will live in a place where water supply will be a serious problem. Although these data are facts, it seems we do not want to understand what they mean; twelve thousand different chemicals are used in industry, and we use as much water just for watering golf courses every day as would be enough to ensure the daily minimum water requirement for 4.7 billion people, as calculated by the UN.

The problems are thus given, and it is evident that new solutions must be found to solve them, solutions which fully comply with current environmental requirements. These must be given top priority if we want our grandchildren to be able to look at water as a source of development.

Water is a renewable energy source and it is one of the corner-stone of sustainable growth without which there is no development. At the same time, our fresh water reserves are finite and potentially leading to wars, its pollution could cause epidemics, while water shortages might result in famines. We must realize that the key to our further development is the preservation of our water supply. It is only up to us whether we can preserve it.