Belfast Telegraph

Water, water, everywhere, except where we want it

By Sharon Owens

As thousands of water-deprived citizens in Northern Ireland attempted to bathe themselves with bottled water and a flannel, did they spare a thought for the beleaguered people of Queensland, Australia?

An area of territory the size of France and Germany has been submerged under flood waters reaching eight or nine metres deep. In all, 200,000 householders in 22 towns are homeless.

Eight people are missing, feared drowned. The cotton harvest has been lost and valuable mines have been flooded.

And, as if all that wasn't bad enough, it's thought the floodwater could be incubating a plague of crocodiles and snakes. So it's going to prove a risky business indeed for rescue teams and damage assessors.

There's something truly miserable about a water crisis. In the space of a rainstorm, or a sudden thaw, lives can be turned upside down.

Homes can be ruined, valuable and sentimental possessions destroyed; and the simple pleasure of a hot bubble bath becomes a high-end luxury item.

At least, in this neck of the woods, we aren't likely to encounter a starving crocodile lurking in the back garden, though frankly nothing would surprise me anymore.

Just a thought: I'm continually dismayed by the sheer amount of dog muck on our streets, so perhaps a few pet crocodiles might put a dent in the amount of canines pooping on our pavements? (Don't worry, dog-lovers. I'm talking about the careless owners - not the innocent dogs.)

We take water for granted, don't we? We don't want to pay water rates, but I suspect water rates may be imposed on us in the coming years.

Our water system in Northern Ireland is described as Victorian and crumbling. Was this due to the financial cost of the Troubles, do you think? Can we blame the bombers for our leaky pipes?

Or were the bigwigs in London simply reluctant to invest in the water system of a province they intended to sign over to Dublin one day? Either way, the Arctic weather of December 2010 won't be forgotten in a hurry.

I spent the entire month worrying about my daughter's school bus getting stranded in heavy snow. My Christmas shopping arrived three weeks late in the post. All our social engagements were cancelled or postponed.

But, by the sounds of it, my family got off lightly. Friends in other parts of Belfast were without running water for days.

They were using paper plates and cups and going out to a cafe for hot meals. They're unable to have a shower at home, or turn on their central heating.

Some elderly people without access to a car find it difficult, and possibly embarrassing, to have to shower in a leisure centre. And many householders will return from their Christmas break to find leaking water streaming from underneath their front (or back) doors.

Next year, we'll have to do better. Actually, if the Arctic weather returns this month, we'll have to do better.

I plan to buy a portable electric heater and some bottled water and leave my attic hatch slightly ajar on freezing days and nights.

I'll check the cold tap in the kitchen is running before switching on my central heating in the mornings. I'll do my best to conserve water by not letting taps run, so the reservoirs don't dry up.

Of course, just as we're getting to grips with our crumbling pipes, you know what's going to happen, don't you? That's right: there'll be an epidemic of the winter vomiting bug, or even the dreaded swine flu.

Heaven help anyone with vomiting children and no running water, is all I can say. With children back to school this week, those rascally flu germs will have a field day.

Floodwater deep enough to submerge two-story buildings and a plague of crocodiles in Queensland; leaking pipes, water shortages and swine flu here at home . . .

I don't want to sound alarmist, but the word 'biblical' has been mentioned more than once. They say global warming could be to blame for extreme weather patterns, though it could be argued that extreme weather patterns have always existed on planet Earth.

I'm going to do my bit for the environment, anyway: no more gossip magazines for me. The graphics have always been tragic. And I finally lost interest when recently confronted with an image of some minor ruffling on the edge of Cheryl Cole's tongue.

Here's wishing you a happy and healthy 2011.

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