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Saving H2O, One Brick At A Time: The displacement theory

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They started talking about 'water wars' years ago. At the time, it seemed a remote and unlikely possibility. Most dismissed it as another nutty-professor theory, like when they first started talking about methane from cow farts causing ozone depletion and global warming.

Water wars seemed like something that probably could happen, but not anytime soon. Within the realms of possibility, but well...more like the Apocalypse. Doomsday. The End Of The World. At any rate, not in our lifetime. After all, the planet is, like, 80% water, right?

In recent years, the emerging reality has proved those doomsayers right...our cities are rapidly running out of water. Urban water tables are dropping radically. You need to dig deeper bore wells to access that water table. Deforestation compounds the issue, as there are fewer trees (they've been cut down to expand the cities) and therefore fewer catchment areas around urban centres, to prevent runoff when it rains.
So the rainwater, which would normally replenish the groundwater supply, instead turns into torrents of destruction and devastates these very same cities.

Apart from which, water shortages are today's stark reality, not tomorrow's murky possibility. Think of it. Thirsty? Need a shower? Sorry, no water. As for water wars? Check the links below. It's happening already; people are killing for water. Next, we'll be killing for air to breathe...but let's stick to water for now.

So, should you worry? Let me put it to you another way: Do you live in a city? And do you use water? There's your answer. It's in the cities that the most water is wasted.

I have a little story for you. During my 3+ years with the UNDP World Bank Water and Sanitation Program (I mention this only so you won't think, a bit further along, that I'm being overly Freudian about toilets), I was in the Philippines on work. That's where I first came across a truly inspired idea. It was lo-tech and so simple, so brilliant and so effective that I wish I'd thought of it myself.

One brick at a time!

Okay, back to toilets. Did you know that every time you flush, the average toilet whooshes around 7 gallons of water down the drain? Most often, less than a third of that would do the job just as well.

Now, how many times do you use the toilet a day? Multiply by seven...and that's just what YOU use. How many people in your household? Now multiply that by 30 days per month, times 12. Do the maths... and you get a staggering figure.

Sure, there are new 'water saver' toilets on the market now, which use 1.6 gallons per flush. And the 'smart-flush' sort that let you take the momentuous decision (according to what you did in 'em!), of whether to use the half-flush or full-flush mode. But mostly, in Asian cities, we still use the old 7 gallon variety. (Outside of the major cities, the far more water-efficient 'pour flush' toilet is widely used. Not much fun if you have arthritic knees and can't squat, but it saves much water). So, what to do?

Here's the solution. Ready? Take a brick, wrap it securely in plastic and place it in the cistern of your water closet.

That simple. Really. Water displaced is water saved. So you use less each time you flush, while the plastic bag prevents green gunge from growing on the brick, appearing in your toilet bowl and giving you a fright in the morning.

It's so simple and could so easily be adopted as a global campaign, one that every city could implement. It needs no financial outlay, no rearranging of pipes and plumbing, no NOTHING. The only reason NOT to implement it would be sheer apathy. I think the time for apathy is long past.

Unfortunately, most of us think, 'This problem is bigger than me, and anyway what difference can one person make?' Oh, my. Think stone, pond, ripples. One person is all it takes to start that ripple. Be a stone.

Better still, be a brick advocate...contaminate all those around you! First, toss a couple of bricks in every cistern in your home. Then target your neighbours, friends, homes, office blocks, hotels. Most definitely hotels! Plenty of ripple potential in every city in the world!

Me? Apart from the bricks, I'm doing my bit by not showering more than once a week, starting tomorrow. Beat that!

Water Wars
by Priya Tuli
Saturday, 13 Aug. 2005

Priya Tuli is a Strategic Communications Consultant with long years in advertising, and is based in Jakarta. She's available for all sorts of projects involving concepts, creative writing and strategy. She does web content, corporate brochures and annual reports, TVCs and corporate videos, email blasts, buzz and viral campaigns. She's been a columnist with the Jakarta Post and is also available to house-sit your villa in Greece (any island is fine), and your holiday home in South America, Eastern Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, the Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka or New Zealand. You can view her blog at and reach her at [email protected] or [email protected]

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