Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cher, 61, credits Fiji water for her youthful-looking skin

It takes about 20 liters of clean water a day per person to meet basic human requirements -- drinking, cooking and hygiene. The average American uses between 225 and 340 liters a day. Many folks on the planet survive on 5 liters a day. In some parts of sub-Saharan Africa women spend 15 to 17 hours a week collecting water.

I gather this information from a Nature report on a new exhibition on water at New York's American Museum of Natural History.

I am fortunate to live in a time and place where the stuff spews freely from a tap at a fraction of a cent per liter. Water never passes my mind, even though nothing is more crucial to sustaining my life.

Perhaps the most felicitous quality of water is that it is a liquid at moderate temperatures. Most other substances consisting of similarly small molecules -- such as methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide -- are gases.

Liquid water is an excellent solvent that bathes living cells in nutrient-rich solutions, transports substances within cells, and helps flush away the toxic detritus of life. Fortunately, water doesn't dissolve calcium phosphate, which is why our bones don't melt away. Of all liquids, water has one of the highest surface tensions, which allows capillary action to lift water up through the fibers of plants.

Water is so uniquely favorable to life as we know it, it is hard to imagine life without it.

And, wonder or wonders, as our correspondent Mark has suggested we might, I find bottled water from Fiji (!!) on my supermarket shelf in New England. It isn't cheap, but obviously lots of people are willing to pay a premium for water that has been shipped in plastic bottles halfway around the world. The Fiji water folks advertise themselves as green, but one has to wonder just how green it is to move water thousands of miles from a place of relative affluence to a place of even greater affluence where clean, pure water already flows at essentially no cost from a pipe. On the other hand, Fijians have every right to benefit from one of their few natural resources. What do you think, Mark?