In Print

Water Voices

A "voice" to be heard

By Eleni Collins - October 25, 2007

Water Voices from Around the World, William E. Marks, editor and publisher. 2007. 230 pages. $49.50.

As I read "Water Voices from Around the World" with a Poland Spring bottle within arm's reach, I feel a sense of guilt. The book, a collection of over 70 letters and 400 vivid photographs and images, focuses on the importance and availability of water worldwide, and shares personal thoughts about water.

"Water Voices" was a three-year project compiled by Edgartown resident William Marks. Letter writers include United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and UN Messenger of Peace Dr. Jane Goodall. All fresh and informative, each letter says something different, in addition to the hard facts: 1.1 billion people worldwide cannot reach or afford safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.

This depressing data motivated the UN's "International Decade of Action 'Water for Life,' 2005-2015." Initiated by the Republic of Tajikistan and supported by 148 UN member states, the effort is working to halve the number of people who lack access to water and hygienic sanitation by 2015.

Monarch butterflies
Monarch butterflies hibernate in small areas of forests, close to sources of high quality drinking water. Photos from "Water voices from around the world"

In the book's first letter, President Emomali Rakhmonov of the Republic of Tajikistan addresses the people of the world about the importance of preserving fresh water. The source of fresh water for most of Central Asia, Tajikistan's wetlands are vital, and the president remains an important force behind "Water for Life."

The book shows how every area of the earth has problems concerning water. Not only in the deserts in Africa and in the barren Middle East, but in the United States commercial industry as well.

In his letter, Director of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research Eilon Adar discusses water scarcity in the Middle East. With consumption already exceeding the rate of replenishment and a predicted population increase by 2020, the harsh, arid region needs better management of usable water resources.

Pollution in waterways
Pollution in waterways has a global effect, as millions die every year from water-borne diseases.

Gourisankar Ghosh calls it a "silent emergency, an emergency that fails to grab news headlines or to catch people's attention." A native of India, Mr. Ghosh is a founding member of Global Water Partnership and World Water Council, among many other positions.

In another letter concerning India, journalist Nitya Jacob contributed an article he only got published in one English daily newspaper in India out of several he submitted to. The letter highlights the problems with India's water supply: Only one out of 100 Indians has a 24-hour water supply in their homes.

International liaison Marcela Olivera educates readers of a water crisis in Bolivia. In 1999, the government privatized Cochabamba's water utility concession. The price of water rose 300 percent, and the city's residents had to choose whether to send their children to school or to work to pay for the water bills.

The Lorma People of Liberia write of their concern about multinational mining, logging, rubber making, and fishing industries that use their land for profit. The companies leave behind their pollution, which corrupts their land and water.

Hurricane Katrina
This photo, taken by NASA, shows Hurricane Katrina approaching New Orleans.

Rick Ulfik, founder and director of the sustainability project "We, The World," emphasizes that the U.S. has approximately 5 percent of the world's population and uses more than 25 percent of its resources.

The gloomy facts are mixed with light-hearted letters that are uplifting. When Canadian Ryan Hreljac was in first grade, his class learned about the lack of clean water in developing countries. Ryan raised money by doing extra chores around his house, and soon joined many others to raise over $1.5 million.

"Water Doctor" Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) was most famous for establishing the Association of Kneipp Doctors. Kneipp experimented with water cures, from swimming in cold water to walking barefoot in dewy grass. The association, Kneippvereine, is still active today in Germany.

Large, colorful photographs fill the pages in this coffee table book. Informative captions describe remote locations, or relate an anecdote that connects a photo to a specific letter. Several photographs are taken on the Island, such as the ones of Jane Goodall, founder of Roots and Shoots, and the picturesque south shore.

Accompanied with an endnote by Mr. Marks, biographies on all the contributors fill the last few pages.

Individuals of all lifestyles share their "water voices" with the hope of encouraging readers to consider their relationship with water. Water makes up 75 percent of our body weight and 90 percent of our blood. It covers 75 percent of the earth's surface, but only 1 percent is usable. By sharing diverse points of views and expertise, contributors to this book help educate the people of the world to help conserve that 1 percent.

Author's talk with William Marks, Friday, Oct. 26, 7:30 pm. Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Main Street, Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-693-2291, or visit