Archive for the 'health' Category

The water crisis

20 January, 2009

I drink my water from the tap. No Perrier or Evian for me; as the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for drinking-water quality explain, bottled water is stored for longer periods and at higher temperatures than tap water, allowing some microorganisms to grow to higher levels.

Then again, I have a choice. It’s true that a murky stream flows through our quarter, or a polluted river through our town, but I’ve never had the need to get my water from there. I am lucky.

Other people need to make do with the water they have. Or, as the Bolivians of Cochabamba found in 2000, with the water they don’t have. The Bechtel corporation had stepped in a year earlier to become the beneficiary of the drive to privatise water. Two months after the transfer, Bechtel increased water prices by fifty percent. Bolivians were faced with a choice: die of thirst or rise against the new owners.

On the Indian subcontinent, the Coca Cola corporation extracts water from the soil that had been used for generations by farmers in the surrounding area. People buy the corporation’s products, paying the sticker price. The farmers pay through decreased harvests and increasingly frequently with suicide.

In a world where the profit motive regulates the allocation of water, the individual is left powerless. Granted, you can buy a water saving shower head or a dual flush toilet. Through that, you contribute by being less wasteful. But people that crave for water have no such luxury. They need clean water now.

Laws serve to protect the interests of the powerful. For the lower and middle classes to push through the required social change that ensures the market has no place in the allocation of water, direct action is required. Governments need to be presented with a simple equation: it is more expensive to ignore the interests of the people than to ignore those of the corporations.

If we want to redress the disastrous deregulation that has been taking place worldwide in the allocation of water, we can rely on neither the government nor the individual. Instead, we need to put our heads together and initiate orchestrated action against those that lobby for that deregulation and those that implement it. Against the corporations and against government.

Over one billion people have no access to clean drinking water. These are people that could very well stand on our doorstep tomorrow morning, breaking down the door to get access to the water they have as much of a right to as we do. Let us all engage in direct action to force the hand of the establishment and see to it that water allocation is done on the basis of needs rather than profits.

Should smoking be allowed in public places?

28 September, 2007

Freedom goes as far as your next-door neighbour; the people around you expect to be free from your bad habits, and rightly so.

How do you define bad? You don’t – they do. That is the funny part of freedom: it is so maddeningly subjective that you would almost wish there were somebody to impose your definition upon others.

Except, that would be no freedom; and so I would like to be free from your bad smell, she would like to be free from my foul opinions, and non-smokers would want to be, well, healthy.

Change of gear

Society appreciates health in the same way it appreciates economic growth, patriotism, and freedom. It is taken for granted that these values be pursued. In that vain, government will go against corporate interests to the extent voters will force it and lobbyists allow it.

In the nineties, evidently, public pressure on the US federal government became so vehement that crossing it would have meant losing the elections. Clinton, ever the political animal, sensed this and allowed the judicial branch to persecute the tobacco industry for as long as the public maintained an active interest.

And now, my (foul) opinion

Politics is not my game; I like transparent reasoning, so that you may disagree with me based on my arguments rather than on rhetorics. So let me posit that as far as health is considered, I am selfish. I will try and maximise my health, even to the detriment of the enjoyment of others.

When I go to a restaurant, I want to be confident that the probability of me getting cancer is influenced by my choice of food and drink only, rather than by someone else’s decision to light up a cigarette. (As always, there is more than one reason to want something – such as not wanting to smell like a chimney after a nice dinner, or preferring to taste my food free from cigarette smoke, but that would only serve to amplify my tendency to write long articles.) Only slightly less selfish is my wish to extend this confidence to my loved ones.

Society is good for you

Fortunately, society seems to share my preoccupation with health and so I can leverage its influence on government to limit other people’s freedom to impose health risks on me.

Considerations such as the societal costs of smoking don’t hurt, either. After all, if a smoker only increased the probability of lung cancer for himself, that would be one thing. In reality, though, indirect smoking is just as bad, meaning the incidences of smoking-related diseases increase exponentially when smoking is allowed in public spaces. Which is undesirable in both health and economic terms.

It is with great pleasure that I say: thank you for not smoking.