Thanks to an American friend teaching in Paraguay, Cristi C, I’m writing on October 15th to be part of Blog Action 2010. Bloggers around the world will be writing today about water issues in their communities in over 125 countries. I wanted to be part of that, and tell you about water in Oman.
***First the disclaimer: In no way should my words be taken as criticism of the Sultanate of Oman, or His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, but rather as simple observations of a guest living in this beautiful country.
It doesn’t take a keen eye to notice that when you’re living in Oman, you’re living in a desert. When you first land in Muscat, the first things you notice are the beige, sandy landscape and the huge 500 km-long range of Hajar mountains, made of crumbly brown limestone. Add to that the blowing tumbleweed and the sand creeping from the edges onto every paved surface, and you can easily confirm it; you’re living in a desert.
It is mainly for this reason that I was really surprised to learn that my apartment tap water was not only drinkable, but free-flowing. I had expected some parts of the day to be “blacked out”, where water usage would be restricted, like on really hot days in Los Angeles and even Toronto. Given that the typical day in Muscat is the same as one of the hottest days in Toronto or Los Angeles, I really thought I’d be living with water-shortage as my new reality. However, I’ve learned that nearly the opposite is true.
In a country where a reddish-brown dust covers everything in sight on a daily basis (both inside and outside!), and driving through dry, dusty river beds is the norm, I can’t believe that having a dirty car is illegal. You can actually get fined for driving a dirty car. When I first heard this, I thought, how in the world am I going to keep my car clean? I don’t want to pay a $13 fine every time I have a dirty car. The solution? Enter: an Indian worker, who will wash my car in front of my house, 6 days a week at 5:30am for $25/month. Problem solved? Not really. When I saw that I was lugging a 15L pail of drinkable water every night to my doorstep for him to wash my car the next morning, only to have it be dusty just hours later, I thought there had to be a better way. I couldn’t in good conscience continue to throw water down the drain, so to speak. So I decided to go the route of the professional automatic-washer about once every week or two. It costs me about the same, but in water usage, automatic car-washing is far better. I actually still have a pretty clean car (hence why I bought a white one!) and I feel better about not using so much drinkable water.
Speaking of drinkable water, how is that there seems to be so much here, in a country without fresh-water rivers or lakes? I talked to a science teacher at school when I first arrived, and she explained that Oman has some serious water treatment systems that take the sea water, decontaminate it, desalinate it and hold it in big reservoir tanks underground. It also somehow creates electricity – all that sounds pretty efficient to me! Of course the cost is astronomical – most countries in the world wouldn’t be able to afford the millions of dollars that Oman spends on desalinating water. But what other choice do they have? Rainfall is minimal, and they don’t have much groundwater in most of their country. Salalah in the south is still lucky enough to be using groundwater, thanks to the monsoon rains from August to September. But the rest of Oman needs water and they don’t have the natural resources, so they have to use what they have access to: the Sea of Oman.
I’m the first one to admit that I love walking amongst the tall, green palm trees and flower bushes in Shatti, the diplomatic section of Muscat. But every now and then, I pause and think, at what cost is this so green? How much water is being pumped through these automatic-irrigation systems along the multitude of roadways in Muscat, to keep grass alive and flowers blooming? I can only hope that they’re using recycled sea water, and not the expensive, desalinated drinking water.
They do use seawater quite a bit here. To keep the dust down, especially in construction zones, the government uses seawater sprayed from big green reservoir trucks onto the dirt roads. Similar blue trucks transport drinkable water to reservoir tanks around the city. I’m glad to see that the blue trucks are never spraying their contents onto roadways. This is one step in the right direction. Oh, and when you see a yellow reservoir truck (not seen in the photo below), you hold your breath, as they’re what people lovingly refer to as the “poo trucks” – they pump out the septic tanks all over the city, as each building has their own. That’s when I’m really glad I have air-conditioning in my car!
I just wish that there was more water conservation here, and the Omani government also seems to agree. There’s talk on their part, but I don’t see a lot of action on the part of the citizens. Washing their cars by hand every day. Keeping huge gardens that require twice-a-day waterings. And how many times have I passed dripping taps outside of houses on my walks with Snowy? I have to wonder many litres of drinkable water are getting wasted every day. Faucets leak all over the world, but it’s never struck me as such a waste, as it does now that I’m living in a desert.