Saturday, 8 October 2011

Down to the Real Essentials

By Linda from The Witches Kitchen

Tuvalu has just a few days supply of fresh water left. They are rationing water below the UN refugee rate, Australia and New Zealand are flying in rehydration packs on Hercules aircraft, every non-essential use of water is shut down. And still, they are just days away from running out of water.

It really brings it home what's important. Cimate change hasn't caused this. It has just made it much more likely. But probability theory is the kind of maths that made most people avoid maths at school.

Tuvalu's water crisis is the result of super big tides and a drought both happening at the same time. The system failed and then the backup failed. Is it rising sea levels? The problem is that the sea doesn't stay still and let you measure it. It goes up and down twice a day, more or less depending on where the earth is in its orbit around the sun, where the moon is in its orbit around the earth, where the sea currents are flowing, where the pressure gradients in the atmosphere are moving, in a pattern so complex and intricate that it's like a million piece symphony orchestra playing Mozart. And climate change has altered the pattern to make the peaks higher and more frequent. That's the abstract. The concrete is that Tuvalu's underground fresh water is all contaminated with king tide salt water. Can't drink it.

And at the same time, there's been a drought caused by an abnormally long La Nina. La Nina's happen naturally. Cimate change just makes them happen more. This time enough more to run a whole country out of water.

We have lived with tank and dam water for nearly 30 years. There were a couple of times in the mid-90's drought when we ran right out of water. But we could buy it in - get a tanker to deliver a thousand litres of chlorinated town water and pump it into our water tank. My garden collapsed, but we could buy food from the supermarket. We lost quite a few fruit trees, some 15 years old, but the kids could take little tins of fruit to school. We all bathed in the same 15 cm of bathwater, washed our underwear in the bath with us, used the bathwater to soak our clothes, and then ran it out onto the surviving fruit trees. We put bowls of the precious bought water down in the creek bed for the wildlife to drink.

 But what do you do if the water delivery needs a Hercules?

 Permaculture theory is to plan for disaster and build in layers of redundancy. So we've added tanks, tapped a spring, lined dams, built a water trailer with a pump for firefighting. We have a composting toilet and we filter the grey water from the shower to use for the bananas. And we have learned to be very, very frugal with water, to turn off the tap while brushing teeth, to mulch the garden heavily, to wash several loads of clothes in a tub of water, sequencing the washing from the clean whites down to the work socks. (Or at least I've learned - my partner has a deficient washing gene - but we shan't mention that publically shall we!)

And we live on a big island nation, one big enough to truck food around the country and keep an economy functioning in a drought. What do you do if your whole nation is out of water? And more importantly what do the rest of us do?