Water, water

Jul 9, 2007

Last week, Ethan Zuckerman wrote an enlightened post about Fiji Water, and tonight I finally got around to reading the Fast Company article that prompted his post (I subscribed to Fast Company a few weeks back, and the first issue was in pile of mail when I got home yesterday): Message in a Bottle by Charles Fishman. I urge you to read this, too.

I’ll admit I’ve purchased and savored my share of Fiji Water over the last few years. I don’t often buy bottled water — I don’t drink much water, and I usually just find the nearest water fountain or a glass of tapwater — but when I do, I search out Fiji Water.

I have an affinity for that water, for it connects me to my time on Paama Island in the Republic of Vanuatu. During my Peace Corps service on that island, whenever I’d hike up and over to the east side, I could gaze out over the wide Pacific, and if I’d paddled away from Paama, past Lopevi volcano and eastward, the next stop would be Viti Levu Island, Fiji. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I was gazing in that direction, the Fiji Water bottling operation was just getting underway.

The water we drank on Liro was rainwater collected in a large cistern in the middle of the village, and we filled our bottles a few times each day (ignoring the occasional mosquito larvae). Halfway through our service, we paid a man to build a cement catchment behind our house, our own supply of water that would also help supply the growing school we served. The project was delayed when Avok, the carpenter, got a bad case of malaria. (Read this new National Geographic feature on malaria.)

I’ve thought about water a lot. Exactly 15 years ago, just out of college and soon to be headed to Hawaii, I holed up in the DeKalb Public Library for a few nights, researching water politics of the Middle East and predictions for the role of water in the 21st century. Erin laughed at me at the time, but came to understand.

In Hawaii, water was everywhere. When I wasn’t out on a surfboard or bobbing in the swimming pool, I was enjoying the delicious water that’s taken from the Oahu aquifers.

Today, with climate change worries, water is an important topic. NPR’s Richard Harris had two good reports today about drought in Arizona (here and here), and in New York, the health commissioner wants more people to drink tap water.

Anyway, after reading Fishman’s article, I’ll be buying less bottled water — an infrequent bottle of Fiji Water for memories of the South Pacific, and to support the locals there — and drinking more of the free stuff at my easy disposal. You?

Anton Zuiker

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