Water Purification and Civilization

Water: the most valuable resource on earth. Wars have been fought over it, religions worshiped it. It has influenced civilization, migration patterns and resources. Now the question of purification is one of the most vital scientific and social sciences.

An estimated one-eighth of the world population suffers from a lack of clean water. Disease, filth and pollution lower the quality of life. Droughts follow the deforestation and devastation of progress, industry, mining and war.

New advancements are being made every day. Fundraisers are held to buy pumps and purification units for isolated villages. Chemicals, organics and microbes are studied to see if maybe they hold the key to the world’s biggest danger.

One such advancement is in the discovery of the purifying properties of the Moringa Oleifera tree. The seeds, crushed and suspended in water, killing 90-99.99% of bacteria in previously untreated water. Besides the purifying effects, Moringa Oleifera also provides firewood, oil, food and fertilizer. Yet this tree is mostly unknown, despite its usefulness, adaptability and tolerance for drought.

Other methods of purification are pH adjustment, flocculation, sedimentation and filtration. Chlorine and ozone can be used to disinfect the water, ultra-violet and portable filtration systems provide a wide range of options. However, most of these methods have either harmful side-effects, or are expensive/not suitable for high population density or sensitive areas.

Water is the basic building-block of almost any universe. In a world-building exercise, whether for Science Fiction or Fantasy, the role of water must be considered. But not only the course of rivers, the placement of lakes, and the rise and fall of the tides can be touched on.

The purity and availability of water is of the utmost importance. A city will not be able to function if its only water source is highly contaminated or cut off.

An ancient tactic in war was to cut off or poison the water sources. Babylon was felled when the river was diverted and the Persian troops entered through the river channel. Many cultures have used dead livestock—or the bodies of their victims—to poison wells, lakes and rivers.

How does this specifically apply to writers? How can we use this in our worlds and stories?

  • The water is cut off to a city, planet, or station. The protagonist, facing dehydration, is severely weakened at a critical moment, or derailed from her mission in the immediate necessity of finding water.
  • A black-market ring comes into control of all water reserves.
  • There is no more water on Earth, and NASA turns its attention to the ice caps on other planets.
  • The mining, transportation, purification and storage of those supplies is at such high cost that many people are forced to substitute blood for water.
  • As vegetation is depleted on earth, the water situation worsens. Wars break out for control of water. Alternatively, water and water spirits become the basis of a new religion.
  • The farming of Morinda Oleifera trees becomes a major industry, leading to the rise and advance of third-world nations. The balance of power is radically changed.
  • Magic is discovered, but it requires water to work. Science and belief come head-to-head again over the use, preservation and importance of water.
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