Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Water: The center of life

by Lukas Meier
Individual Volunteer from Switzerland

During all my education, I was taught that water is the origin and the basis of every life. But it wasn’t until I came to Cambodia, one of the less educated countries, that I learned exactly what that means.

The reason for my sudden understanding was my observations on a farm in Takeo.

The water source on that farm is the fishpond. The fishpond is filled during the rainy season and is used the whole year. The family uses it for cooking and drinking water, to wash their clothes and to bathe. The animals drink out of the fishpond, and all of the vegetables, which are planted during the dry season, are watered out of the fishpond. And last but not least, the fishpond is used to raise fish.

The water inside that fishpond is the basis for all life on the farm.

The advantage of this system is that the farmers are able to use their natural resources without wasting the groundwater.

But there are also problems caused by their system.

Because the fishpond the only source of water, any problems that arise with it can leave the whole farm without water — and, if prolonged, without life.

The other problems are smaller and not as obvious. There is a possibility that the chemicals in soaps and laundry detergents can cause health problems for human, animals and fish. Moreover, if the farmer uses chemicals to kill vermin or applies pesticides to his plants, the leftover can run off into the pond. And when the now-contaminated water is used to water the same plants again, the vermin can develop resistance to the chemical. This chemical resistance is a long-term problem and leads to higher chemical costs for the farmer.

There is just an estimation of the type of problems that could develop, but on the long-term, they really are serious. But there are a few simple approaches.

If the farmer tries to use as little chemical as possible, or even avoids applying it altogether, he can avoid the negative effect. By using biodegradable shampoos and laundry detergents, this effect could be stopped too. By learning about the general effects of chemicals, the farmers can better comprehend how to work with chemicals without risking the health of humans, animals and plants.

And again I understand how clean water is the foundation for all life.

Lukas is volunteering in Cambodia with the CHAD program for 6 months. When he returns to Switzerland he will enroll in university where he plans to continue his agricultural studies.

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