The privilege of clean water and the power to contribute

Throughout the trip, I marvelled at the availability of clean water in Scotland. Most of the rivers and creeks are potable at the source! Our plan was to drink from the fast-flowing rivers and carry water when we weren’t sure how far to the next source. To that end, some days my bike was laden down with litres of water and I would ponder carrying one’s own potable water. Many people in the world struggle to access clean water. But my privilege in the world means that I have to carry water only when I’m out on recreation. Never do I have to carry water for my family. They have taps!  The upside of this privilege is that we have time to ponder and implement solutions to global water shortages.

Scotland appeared to be having a dry summer. On the trail, some water sources were dry. Lack of rainfall meant unused drainage ditches had weeds in them, rivers and lakes were low and hydro dams and reservoirs seemed dry.

Weeds in the drainage ditch
Dry reservoir
Pedalling across a dam. The Orrin Dam is 300m long!

The UK had an extremely hot and dry summer. The BBC mentioned “significant” water scarcity in Scotland; that 2018 was the hottest summer since 1984, and that fishermen and farmers reported low water.

Low lake makes for new pedalling route
Low rivers means easier crossings
Pedalling through a long-dry creek bed

But even though the water was low, we never had a problem finding sources. The biggest inconvenience was having to carry many litres at a time. The chore of carrying water was frustrating because it made the bikes heavy. The heavier the bikes, the harder it was to hop over the ditches which sectioned the trail. The ditches ranged in size from a few inches to gaping wheel-crushing chasms.

The more water we had to carry, the harder it was to hop over the ditches. 

But that statement is emblematic of my privilege in the world.  Our biggest concern was overloading the bikes with water so we wouldn’t bend the wheels crossing the drainage ditches.

Water scarcity is a complex social, political and environmental problem. It affects community health and gender privilege. Thinking about water, I remembered learning about women in Kenya who walk many kilometres every day to procure clean drinking water. The task sometimes prevents them from working, attending school, and maybe exposes them to violence or health risks.  The daily chore of fetching water is foreign to my lifestyle where tap water is free. Carrying water on my bike doesn’t even begin to compare to the Kenyan woman who carries water every day to take care of  her family. This disparity of privilege gave me pause and I wondered what I can do to contribute  to clean drinking water in the world.

Loch Ericht
Assessing the water quality. Looks good!

I suggest research in filtration technique, education on management of human waste and regional planning to accommodate growing populations. Clean water can be taken for granted in countries like Canada and Scotland. We have the privilege to do so! And the time we save in not having to worry about our own water gives us the power to contribute to water access for other citizens of the world. Biking across Scotland gave me time to think about my wealth in the world and what that means to me. My contribution doesn’t have to be to build a well or design a new latrine system for a remote community. But I do have the luxury of time and can contribute to the intellectual infrastructure of global problem-solving. There are organizations who manage the finances and implementation of these initiatives. All I have to do is contribute intellectual and financial capital to worthwhile organizations. My time is free because I take the luxury of fresh water for granted. My responsibility is to use that time for worthwhile contributions.


Sitting in a dry creek, pondering intellectual solutions

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