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Unformatted text preview: [C:\# WP\2 0 0 7\SUSTAIN\N E W S\NEW YORKER 1.wpd ] [ 2006-11-06 | 10:36:24 ] THE LAST DROP Confronting the possibility of a global catastrophe. by MICHAEL SPECTER Issue of 2006-10-23 Most mornings, the line begins to form at dawn: scores of silent women with babies strapped to their backs, buckets balanced on their heads, and in each hand a bright-blue plastic jug. On good days, they will wait less than an hour before a water tanker rumbles across the rutted dirt path that passes for a road in Kesum Purbahari, a slum on the southern edge of New Delhi. On bad days, when there is no electricity for the pumps, the tankers dont come at all. That water kills people, a young mother named Shoba said one recent Saturday morning, pointing to a row of battered pails filled with thick, caramel-colored liquid. Whoever drinks it will die. The water was from a community standpipe shared by thousands of the slums residents. Women often use it to launder clothes and bathe their children, but nobody is desperate enough to drink it. Instead, they take their buckets to a tanker stop, sit in the searing heat, and wait. Shoba found a spot in the shade next to a family of sleeping hogs. She wore a peach-colored sari and, to ward off the sun, a thin purple scarf around her head. Two little girls played happily in piles of refuse that lined the road. There is no standard for how much water a person needs each day, but experts usually put the minimum at fifty litres. The government of India promises (but rarely provides) forty. Most people drink two or three litresless than it takes to flush a toilet. The rest is typically used for cooking, bathing, and sanitation. Americans consume between four hundred and six hundred litres of water each day, more than any other people on earth. Most Europeans use less than half that. The women of Kesum Purbahari each hoped to haul away a hundred litres that daytwo or three buckets worth. Shoba has a husband and five children, and that much water doesnt go far in a family of seven, particularly when the temperature reaches a hundred and ten degrees before noon. She often makes up the difference with cups from the citys ubiquitous and unhygienic kiosks, or with bottled water, which costs more than water delivered any other way. Sometimes she just buys milk; its cheaper. Like the poorest people everywhere, the residents of New Delhis slums spend a far greater percentage of their incomes on water than anyone lucky enough to live in a house connected to a municipal system of pipes. Water is often seen as the most basic and accessible element of life, and seemingly the most plentiful. For every gallon in rivers or lakes, fifty more lie buried in vast aquifers beneath the surface of the earth. Yet at least since the cities of ancient Sumeria went to war over control of their riverslong before tales of Moses parting the Red Sea or the Flood described in the Biblewater has been a principal source of conflict. (Theparting the Red Sea or the Flood described in the Biblewater has been a principal source of conflict....
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