A matter of olfactory perception
Posted on September 19th, 2011

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Words of Samuel Tayler Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink”, perhaps have to be rephrased to suit the modern times to read as ‘ water….water…… everywhere …..but…. what should one drink……..?. Tap water …….! Or bottled water ……?

The Ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles believed that water as one of the four classical elements along with fire, earth and air, and was regarded as the primordial matter of the universe. The classical element of water was also one of the five elements in traditional Chinese philosophy, along with earth, fire, wood and metal.

Water is vital for all known forms of life. Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water and humans make use of it actively. Purification of water for human consumption is usually done by filtration, distillation, or by a range of other methods. Dr. Geoff Folkard, attached to the University of Leicester came out with the theory that Moringa (Murunga) as the ultimate answer to purify water, in an hour for safe drinking (vide my article murunga – the ultimate answer to polluted water).

Although access to safe drinking water has enhanced over the last decades in almost every part of the world, yet some observers believe that by the year 2025 over half of the world population will be facing water-based vulnerability. Saving potable water only for human consumption is another option. In some cities such as Hong Kong, sea water is extensively used for flushing toilets citywide in order to conserve fresh water resources.

Statistical information reveals that approximately a billion people around the world routinely drink unhealthy water currently. Poor water quality and bad sanitation are deadly; some five million deaths a year are caused by consuming polluted water. The World Health Organization estimates that safe water could prevent 1.4 million child deaths from diarrhoea each year.

Spiritual aspect

A UN report gives the assurance that, “there is enough water for everyone”, but says “access to it is hampered by mismanagement and corruption”. “40 percent of the world’s inhabitants currently have insufficient fresh water for minimal hygiene”. The UN World Water Development Report (WWDR, 2003) further indicates that in the next 20 years the quantity of water available to everyone may decrease by 30 percent.

Most religions consider water as a purifier. Contemporary faiths such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Rastafarian, Shinto, Taoism, Judaism and Wicca assimilate water as a ritual washing. In Islam it is known as ablution. In Christianity immersing a person in water, known as baptism, comes under the seven sacraments of Christianity. Buddhists use water as a purifier of flowers before offering to the Buddha, also offer as part of the Gilanpasa and use water to transfer ‘merit’ to the dead after a religious ceremony. Hindus wash flowers during pooja and throw them at gods’ pictures. Water is also used in Amrit Sanskar in Sikhism, in Judaism a bride experiences visiting the mikvah before her wedding day (a process of regaining purity by dousing in a pool of ‘living waters’ (non-stagnant)).

In addition, a ritual bath in pure water is performed for the dead in many religions, including Judaism and Islam. In Shinto, water is used in almost all rituals to cleanse a person or an area. Water is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, for example: “The earth was formed out of water and by water” (NIV Bible). In the Qur’an it is stated that “Living things are made of water”.

New industry

Many countries today use tap water for drinking purposes but simultaneously due to skilful marketing strategies bottling of water for drinking has turned into an enormous industry worldwide creating, of course, additional auxiliary jobs. Through international networks this new business floods into billions where various brand names, with tempting advertising jargon, are competing with each other to promote sales.

Why do intelligent and sensible people buy bottled water when they already pay water bills for local authorities and Water Boards knowing full well that tap water provided by such institutions is safe for consumption? It is due to nothing but effective ‘on the ball’ marketing which makes people believe that ‘natural spring water’ is cleaner, tastier and microbiologically wholesome than tap water! The bottom line is that water looks like water, tastes like water in whatever form it comes.

Usually bottled water costs much more than tap water. There is a wide range of brand names in the market today with eye catching slogans and displaying ‘registered’ numbers and trademarks, but who can tell whether these bottled waters are not the same as that come out of normal taps supplied by official water boards? It stands to reason, however, if one has grounds for concern while touring an underprivileged country about the standard of drinking water and to believe that water is polluted, unhealthy and is a health hazard, but then why people, blinded by advertising campaigns, resort to bottled water when they live in countries where water is filtered, purified and tested extensively for safety? It boggles one’s mind!

Apart from olfactory perception, the sharp consumer demand for bottled water may be due to perhaps on the level of minerals such as calcium and magnesium found in water in different geographical locations. For example one might find the taste of water in coastal areas to be brackish whereas in `hill country, such as Nuwara Eliya, one may claim water has a different taste and has even won international recognition for brewing beer!

The best recipe for saving money and to have a piece of mind would be to refrigerate tap water or to invest on a domestic type water filter for drinking purposes. This should make water more palatable and one could complacently relax and absorb in a positive thought of assessing how much money one has saved out of it!

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