Category Archives: Environment
“Get out of the shower!” your little brother shouts as he bangs on the washroom door. “You’ve been in there for twenty minutes!”
During the 20 minutes you spend in the shower, you use up approximately 400 liters of water (Environment Canada, Quick Facts). The Prophet, peace be upon him, performed the ghusl, a complete bath, with one saa` of water — that’s just 2.03 liters.
Abu Jafar narrated: While I and my father were with Jabir bin `Abdullah, some people asked him about taking a bath. He replied, “A saa` of water is sufficient for you.” A man said, “A saa` is not sufficient for me.” Jabir said, “A saa` was sufficient for one who had more hair than you and was better than you [meaning the Prophet].” (Al-Bukhari)
The Current Picture
You may ask, “How is that possible? Taking a shower in six cups of water? The times sure have changed.” You’re right. Times have changed. The problem of water scarcity is worse today than during the time of the Prophet. We have come to passively accept the luxurious North American lifestyle. While the average Canadian uses 335 liters of water per day, the average sub-Saharan African uses 10-20 liters per day (Environment Canada, “How Do We Use It?”). It may seem impossible for us in North America to conceive, but in today’s world, the level of conservation practiced by the Prophet has become a necessity.These statistics may explain why:
- Less than one half of one percent of all water on Earth is freshwater suitable for human use. The rest is seawater or frozen in the polar ice caps (Barlow).
- 1.4 billion people, that is 20 percent of the world’s population, lack access to an adequate supply of clean drinking water (Ward).
- Global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, at more than twice the rate of human population growth (Barlow).
- 31 countries currently face water scarcity (Barlow).
- More than half the world’s major rivers are either polluted or drying (Ward).
- In developing countries, water causes 80 percent of illnesses. Each year three to four million people die of waterborne diseases (Environment Canada, Quickfacts).
- By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in conditions of water shortage and one-third will live in absolute water scarcity (Barlow).
“What we call man’s power over nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with nature as its instrument.” (C.S. Lewis)
The problem is not the amount of water. The amount of water on Earth remains constant — it doesn’t increase or decrease — and there is enough to meet everyone’s needs. The problem is unequal access and use.
Different regions of the world naturally hold different amounts of freshwater. India, for example, holds 20 percent of the world’s population but only 4 percent of its water (Ward). This natural division of water is easy for governments to overcome with the right technology. The problem of water scarcity arises when limited water is coupled with social inequalities and political agendas. Who gets access to a region’s water and how they use it is usually determined by who has power and money.
Water is increasingly being privatized by large transnational corporations who own it and sell it like a commodity. Hungry for profit, these corporations drive the price of water out of reach of poor people and deliver it to those wealthy individuals and industries that can pay for it. Only the wealthy who can install plumbing systems receive subsidized municipal water, leaving the poorest in developing countries to pay the highest price for water. In Lima, Peru, for example, poor people pay private vendors up to US$3 per cubic meter for water that is supplied in buckets and is not even potable. At the same time, the affluent pay US$0.30 per cubic meter for treated water that pours out of taps in their homes (Barlow). In India, some households spend 25 percent of their income on water (Barlow). During droughts, governments often reserve water for the elite who can pay for it.
Industries, also hungry for profit, require vast amounts of water. It takes 215,000 liters of water to produce one metric ton of steel (Environment Canada, Quickfacts). Industries purchase access to a region’s water at subsidized rates from the government. Most of the world’s freshwater is naturally stored under the ground. Industries pump this groundwater faster than it can replenish itself, causing the land to collapse and thus permanently destroying its ability to store water. In the Arabian Peninsula, groundwater use is three times as great as recharge. At current rates of extraction, Saudi Arabia will reach total depletion in 50 years (Barlow). In developing countries, industries dump 75 percent of their untreated wastes into local water bodies (Barlow). When the environment is sufficiently damaged and water disappears, industries move elsewhere, leaving a region’s residents in scarcity.
The politics of power and money also determine which countries can secure water. Since most rivers and groundwater aquifers cross national boundaries, many experts believe that future conflicts in the world will likely involve water. In the early 1970s, Syria and Iraq almost went to war over the waters of the Euphrates when Syria built a dam at Tabaq, blocking a quarter of the river’s flow to Iraq (Ward). Ten African countries share the waters of the Nile and each wants a share of the river. To protect its Nile water supply, Egypt in the past has threatened to use its size, wealth, and power go to war against Ethiopia, a country where water flows abundantly but millions starve to death each year (Ward). In 1978, for example, Egypt’s then president Anwar Sadat stated, “any action that would endanger the water of the Blue Nile will be faced with a firm reaction on the part of Egypt, even if that action should lead to war” (Kendie).
Where Do We Fit In?
The problem of water scarcity is not confined to the developing world. Its roots are connected to us and the way we live in North America. North Americans are the worst hoarders of water. While millions go without water, North Americans use 1,280 cubic meters of water per person every year; Europeans use 694; Asians use 535; South Americans use 311; and Africans use 186 (Barlow).
While North Americans can boast large water supplies — Canada contains one quarter of the world’s freshwater — our extravagant habits won’t save us from danger for long. Water levels in the Great Lakes reached record lows in recent years (Barlow). The Ogallala groundwater aquifer in the US High Plains is depleted eight times as fast as nature can replenish it, causing the land to drop at least a meter each year (Barlow). Americans have dammed, diverted, and polluted the Colorado River until little or no water reaches its destination at sea (Barlow).
The extravagances of our North American lifestyle — lawn sprinklers, frequent car washes, sprawling golf courses, abundant swimming pools, dripping taps, and toilets that consume 18 liters of water per flush — fool us into believing we are safe (Barlow). They help us ignore the world’s water crisis or accept it with a shrug. The principle of “We have so let’s use it now and think about the future later” prevails in most North American minds.
Consider Las Vegas, a city that receives 3.8 inches of rainfall in an average year — comparable to dry areas of Saudi Arabia and the Western Sahara. This desert city sparkles and splashes with the idea that water is limitless. The Hotel Luxor in Las Vegas boasts five-story waterfalls, shark tanks, a 1.3-million gallon dolphin pool, and a miniature Nile River with a boat ride. A full-sized pirate ship sinks again and again into a man-made river that circles the Treasure Island Hotel. The Hotel Bellagio stands beside an 8-acre artificial lake with hundreds of fountains spitting 200 feet into the air. The city flaunts colossal fountains, golf courses, man-made lakes, swimming pools, and even a sailing club. According to Las Vegas Water Commissioner, Patricia Mulroy, each acre-foot of “decorative water” in the city generates US$30 million. Hence the saying, “Water flows uphill to money” (Ward).
How Do We Respond?
“We live in the world’s most technically sophisticated society, yet we are now right back where we were three thousand years ago, praying for rain.” (Garrett Ward)
Every person on the planet has a right to adequate water.
The Prophet said, “Muslims have a common share in three (things): grass, water, and fire.” (Abu Dawud)
Jabir bin ‘Abdullah narrated: The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, forbade the sale of excess water. (Muslim)
Ideally, basic water needed for survival should be free, equally available to everyone, and legally protected from waste and contamination. Current global practices and policies are obviously unjust.
We are also responsible for such injustices we see around us, as the Quran outlines: “Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.” (Aal Imran 3:104)
Yet, as individuals we have little control over international water politics and policies. How then should we respond to the global water crisis? Here are ways to begin:
- Don’t lose hope. Although the situation looks bleak, don’t let it depress you. The Quran tells us that, “Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is Guardian over all things.” (Az-Zumar 39:62)You and I are only responsible for making an effort. Allah takes care of the results. He knows what’s best for us and He is the Most Just, whether that justice comes in this life or in the next.
- Be grateful. Allah granted North Americans an abundant supply of fresh, clean water without any effort from us. Allah asks us in the Quran:”Have you considered the water which you drink? Is it you that send it down from the clouds, or are We the senders? If We pleased, We would have made it salty; why do you not then give thanks?” (Al-Waqiah 56:68-70)”Say: Have ye thought: If (all) your water were to disappear into the earth, who then could bring you gushing water?” (Al-Mulk 67:30)Water is not simply “there” and it doesn’t “fall by itself.” As we read in numerous verses of the Quran, Allah “sends down water from the sky.” Allah is the only one who can continue our supply of water and if He wishes, He can remove it any time.
- Get involved. Raise awareness among your friends and family. Participate in efforts, such as letter-writing campaigns to lobby the government over its international water-related decisions. Join conservation groups in your area that protect local water resources. Many organizations look for volunteers to clean up river banks, monitor water quality, or educate school groups.
- Change your habits. Although we can’t always control the actions of governments, we can control our own use of water. Allah rewards us for every step we take towards change. Resist the North American habit to overuse and waste water. The Quran tells us:”And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful.” (Al-Israa 17:26-27)”Eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters.” (Al-Araf 7:31)Just because we have abundant water, that doesn’t mean we should use it. Begin to fulfill your trust and responsibility towards Allah by conserving the water you use at home.
Ten Easy Ways You Can Conserve Water
- Don’t use your toilet as a wastebasket or flush it unnecessarily. Toilets consume a quarter of our municipal water supply and use 40 percent more water than needed (Environment Canada, Quickfacts).
- Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth or soap dishes.
- Keep a bottle of drinking water in the fridge. Don’t run your tap for cold water.
- Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when they are full.
- Check pipes and faucets for leaks and get them fixed. Many homes lose more water from leaking taps than they need for cooking and drinking (Environment Canada, Quickfacts).
- Install low-flow shower heads and flow-restrictors on faucets. A 5-minute shower with a standard shower head uses 100 liters of water while a low-flow shower head uses 35 liters of water (Environment Canada, Quickfacts).
- Water your lawn every third day and water during the cool times of the day.
- Sweep patios and sidewalks, don’t hose them.
- Limit pesticides on your lawn to prevent them from reaching our water supply.
- Drive less! It takes approximately 10 liters of water to produce a liter of gasoline (Environment Canada, Quickfacts).
“He it is Who hath placed you as viceroys of the earth and hath exalted some of you in rank above others, that He may try you by (the test of) that which He hath given you. Lo! Thy Lord is swift in prosecution, and Lo! He verily is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Al-Anam 6:165)
- Barlow, Maude. Blue Gold. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 2002.
- Environment Canada. “Quickfacts.” Freshwater Website. Accessed 15 Mar. 2006
- Environment Canada. “How Do We Use It?” Freshwater Website: Did You Know? (Water – Domestic Use). Accessed 15 Mar. 2006
- Kendie, Daniel. “Egypt and the Hydro-Politics of the Blue Nile River.” Northeast African Studies 6.1-2 (1999): 141-169.
- Ward, Diane R. Water Wars. New York: Riverhead Books, 2002.
By Shehnaz Toorawa
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “The world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you as His stewards over it. He sees how you acquit yourselves…” (Muslim).
Allah tells us in numerous verses of the Quran, that He has created everything on Earth—animals, rain, plants, oceans, stars, the sun, the moon—for the benefit of humans. With these favours comes the role of Khalifah, or guardianship.
The Quran tells us,“He it is Who has placed you as viceroys of the earth and has exalted some of you in rank above others, that He may try you by (the test of) that which He has given you” (6:165).
Today the planet is in a mess. Deforestation, desertification, water pollution, air pollution, soil erosion, extinction of species and the dwindling of resources indicate that humans are not fulfilling their role of Khalifah adequately. What can we do to fulfill our responsibility to protect the Earth? Here are seven small, but effective steps each of us can take to begin the process:
1. Buy less, consume less, waste less.
On average, an individual in a developed nation consumes twice as much grain, twice as much fish, three times as much meat, nine times as much paper, and eleven times as much gasoline as an individual in a developing nation. (1)
Yet, shopping malls, TV commercials, flyers, billboards, and the fashion industry continually tell us we don’t have enough and we need to buy more. The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of the world’s private consumption spending.(2) The Quran correctly describes our materialistic society in the verse, “The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things) until you visit the graves” (102:1-2).
While North Americans squander wealth and waste it in luxuries, 825 million people in the world are undernourished (3), 2.4 billion live without basic sanitation, and one billion lack adequate shelter.(4) Destruction of forests, desertification of grasslands, water pollution, depletion of fossil fuels, and the collapse of fisheries around the world warn us that the world’s resources are limited—certainly not enough to support the lifestyle habits of an average North American. In the Quran, God warns us not to take more than our share of the world’s resources:“…Do not squander (your wealth) wastefully. Surely the squanderers are the fellows of the Devils” (17:26).
In a world of limited resources, we have an obligation to resist consumer culture and squelch the urge to buy, consume, and eventually waste. The words of the Prophet (pbuh) are a beautiful example of how to live:“Be in the world as if you were a stranger or a traveller along a path” (Bukhari).“The best livelihood is the bare minimum” (Ahmad).
The Quran reminds us that we will be accountable for every item we own and resource we use:“Then (on the day of judgement) you will certainly be questioned about all the favours you enjoyed” (102:8).
Next time you’re in line at the cash register, ask yourself if you really need what you’re buying or if you can live without it.
2. Reduce your shower time to five minutes.
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Excess in the use of water is forbidden, even if you have the resources of a whole river” (Tirmidhi).
Ever noticed how long you spend in the shower? A five-minute shower consumes 100 litres of water. (5) That may not sound like much, but consider that less than one half of one percent of all water on Earth is fresh water for human use. The rest is sea water or frozen in polar ice caps.(6) Every person on Earth has a share in this water, yet 20% of the world’s population already lacks access to an adequate supply of clean drinking water.(7) While the average Canadian uses 335 litres of water per day, the average sub-Saharan African survives on 10-20 litres per day.(8) The Prophet (pbuh) would perform ghusl, a complete bath, with one Sa’ of water—that’s just 1.6 litres. In a world where water scarcity and pollution are increasing, every drop counts.
3. Buy locally grown food, without the packaging
Where does the food you eat come from? The local farm or a land far away? In the United States, the average food item travels 2,500–4,000 kilometers.(9) The farther food travels before it reaches your plate, the less money the rural farmer retains. Multinational corporations that haul, package, and process the food collect a larger portion of the profit.
The farther food travels, the more energy it consumes for pesticides, preservatives, ripening, packaging, processing, transportation and sales. Eating local food results in a healthier diet, more equitable profit distribution, less energy consumption and less environmental pollution.
4. Take the transit or walk more often
Cars not only guzzle the world’s dwindling supply of fossil fuels, but the burning of those fuels contributes to urban smog, acid rain, and other air quality problems. Cars produce large volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The average car produces about 2.4 kilograms of CO2 for every litre of gasoline‚ or three to four times its own weight in CO2 every year. (10) This means more air pollution, more extreme weather and storms, more water contamination and more diseases.
Public transit, cycling or walking are simple ways to reduce energy consumption, improve air quality and lead a healthier lifestyle. If you normally drive to work, take the transit once a week for a refreshing change.
5. Install energy-saving bulbs and appliances in your home
North Americans consume 30% of the world’s energy—an amount similar to that consumed collectively by all developing countries, holding more than 80% of the world’s population. While we may flick the light switch without a second thought, 2 billion people in the world lack access to electricity or other modern energy supplies.(11)
While it may be impossible for North Americans to forego the luxuries of electricity, heat, stoves, dishwashers and microwaves, we can reduce our energy consumption through efficiency. Europeans have done it—although they lead a similar lifestyle, people in the United States and Canada consume 2.4 times as much energy at home as those in Western Europe. (12) Home appliances are the world’s fastest-growing energy consumers after automobiles, accounting for 30 percent of industrial countries’ electricity consumption.(13) The good news is that energy-efficient lighting and appliances have become common in the North American market. Making your home energy efficient is an easy and effective way to reduce energy consumption without sacrificing convenience.
6. Eat more vegetables
Vegetables capture energy for growth directly from a renewable source—the sun, while meat production in industrial countries requires a high input of non-renewable fossil fuel energy. When farmers raise animals on pasture, they require little grain, consume little energy and their manure becomes valuable agricultural fertilizer. Today, in most industrial nations, rather than being pasture-fed, corporations raise animals in factory farms that consume huge quantities of grain, water, hormones, and electricity and produce tonnes of toxic wastes. Producing one calorie of beef or poultry requires 11–17 calories of feed.(14) Producing 8 ounces of beef requires 25,000 litres of water.(15) This means that a diet high in grain-fed meat requires two to four times more land than a vegetarian diet. Health is another consideration—the crowded conditions of factory farms along with an absence of waste recycling make livestock easy targets for disease.
The Prophet (pbuh) allowed us to eat meat and, like all other foods, meat is one of Allah’s favours that He permits us to enjoy. However, we need to apply the principle of moderation, a key aspect of the Prophet’s lifestyle, in our diet. Eating more vegetables, without abandoning meat, can make a significant difference in the amount of natural resources each of us consumes. Next time you bite into that steak, think of the energy that went into producing it.
7. Recycle and compost
Canadians generate approximately 1.7 kg of waste per person per day.(16) When we use recycled materials along with recycling and composting our household waste, we significantly reduce our energy consumption and waste production. Producing aluminium from recycled material, for example, requires 95 percent less energy than manufacturing it from raw materials.(17) Keep in mind that having a recycling box or a compost bin doesn’t justify consuming more and wasting more. Reducing consumption is still the best way to reduce our impact on the environment.
Where do you Stand? Calculate Your Ecological Footprint
The ecological footprint is a tool that assesses the environmental impact of an individual, a region or an activity. Your ecological footprint indicates the amount of biologically productive land area required to support your lifestyle based on the amount of resources you use and the amount of wastes you produce. Calculations show that the planet has available 1.9 hectares of biologically productive land per person to supply resources and absorb wastes—yet the average person on Earth already uses 2.3 hectares worth. These “ecological footprints” range from 9.7 hectares claimed by the average American to 0.47 hectares used by the average Mozambican.(18) Calculate your ecological footprint and discover your impact on the planet at http://www.redefiningprogress.org/. The results may shock you!
(1) Gregory Mock, “How Much Do We Consume,” World Resources June 2000, 22 Feb. 2006 http://earthtrends.wri.org/features/view_feature.php?theme=6&fid=7.
(2) The Worldwatch Institute, “The State of Consumption Today,” State of the World 2004 Jan 2004, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.worldwatch.org/features/consumption/sow/trendsfacts/2004/02/04/.
(4) Molly O’Meara Sheehan, “Urbanization,” 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.worldwatch.org/topics/people/urbanization/.
(5) Environment Canada, “Quickfacts,” 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.ec.gc.ca/water/en/e_quickfacts.htm.
(6) Maude Barlow, Blue Gold (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 2002).
(7) Diane R. Ward, Water Wars (New York: Riverhead Books, 2002)
(8) Environment Canada, “Quickfacts.”
(9) The Worldwatch Institute, “Watching What We Eat,” State of the World 2004 Jan 2004, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.worldwatch.org/features/consumption/sow/trendsfacts/2004/06/02/.
(10) Natural Resources Canada, “Climate Change—We’re All Part of the Solution,” 25 Jan. 2006, 22 Feb. 2006 http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/communities-government/climate-change.cfm?attr=28#cct.
(11) People and The Planet, “Energy: Supply and Demand,” 16 Jan. 2003, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.peopleandplanet.net/doc.php?id=559.
(12) The Worldwatch Institute, “Making Better Energy Choices,” State of the World 2004 Jan 2004, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.worldwatch.org/features/consumption/sow/trendsfacts/2004/07/07/.
(14) The Worldwatch Institute, “Watching What We Eat.”
(15) People and The Planet, “Deadly Impact of Growing Demand for Meat,” 7 Jul. 2004, 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.peopleandplanet.net/doc.php?id=2277.
(16) Environment Canada, “An Environmental Citizen…Who Me?” 22 Feb. 2006 http://www.ns.ec.gc.ca/udo/who.html.
(17) The Worldwatch Institute, “Making Better Energy Choices.”
(18) The Worldwatch Institute, “The State of Consumption Today.”