Do we really need to be told the obvious, by Leonardo da Vinci, no less, that “Water is the driving force in Nature”? “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water,” said the twentieth century English poet WH Auden, which may be closer to the bone. Indeed, we can go for longer without food than without water. Plans to protect air, water, women and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man. All these fights are one fight. All their solutions are interlinked. The death of a river is the death of an ecosystem.
In human terms the death of a river or a lake or a sea is as though somebody important in the family, somebody central to its well-being, has suddenly died. The absence of this key person pushes the remainder of the family below the poverty line – the line of loss and deprivation. If a parent dies, the children and remaining spouse must start all over again from minus. They have lost their advantages in several ways, if they had them to start with – they have lost their emotional confidence, their physical nurture, perhaps their financial security and certainly they have lost out on their overall well-being. That is the impact of a river dying, as if your father or mother suddenly died when you were very young, leaving you deprived forever. That is why our culture still mourns the disappearance of the Saraswati in ancient times. That is why we must fight for our rivers now, many of whom are half-dead. The pity and terror of it is they are being killed by our own indifference and greed or worse, by our inability to see that water is the pillar of our family and not an impersonal ‘substance’. Water contains us. As E.E. Cummings wrote, “For whatever we lose (of a you or a me)/Something of ourselves we find in the sea.”
Moreover, respecting water has everything to do with believing in God. If we believe in a Creator, then by abusing water, which is not only what most of our world is made but is also what we ourselves are mostly made of, we are guilty of a sin against Creation.
Respecting water also has everything to do with not believing in God. If we think we do not need a Mr or Ms Fixit God person but are absolute and ‘scientific’ masters of our destiny, we are guilty, by not respecting water, of destroying mankind. “Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it,” as Margaret Atwood writes in The Penelopiad.
One of the most powerful invocations of water was by Martin Luther King Jr in his fight for civil rights: “Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Water not only sustains our physical life and its context, it also sustains our spiritual life. Some of the most deeply moving experiences of a person’s life are with water from a holy river or spring. The water from these places symbolises our spiritual healing while rain pouring down from the sky is considered the master healer, the well-spring of life and the antidote to poison. But in the end, it will not matter who said what. It’s when the well or the tap is dry that we realise the worth of water.