The national celebrations are upon us, and soon the streets will be full of children spraying water from water guns or hurling water balloons at each other or unsuspecting passersby and cars. A couple of years back there were reports that the Cabinet had banned the use of water guns after a lawsuit was filed, but it seems the directive was never enforced. All over Kuwait, stores – from large hypermarkets to tiny baqalas – are doing brisk business selling water guns and balloons of all shapes and sizes, while children are busy stockpiling enough water bombs to last the long weekend.
This affinity for water is not new, as the fortunes of Kuwait have always been tied to the sea. Being a small, arid settlement surrounded by powerful neighbors, the sea was a source of sustenance and livelihood. Pearl diving was an important activity, and thousands of families depended on this arduous profession.
Merchant ships and dhows also sailed from Kuwait to faraway lands to trade, with sailors being at sea for months on end. Lacking freshwater, Kuwait brought in drinking water by dhows from Iraq, the land of the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers. So in every way, the sea was intertwined with the lives of the residents of Kuwait.
The arrival in the market of cultured pearls decimated the pearl diving industry, but the discovery of oil during the same period blunted its impact, and soon, Kuwait was one of the richest and most developed countries of the world. The dependence on the sea continues today, albeit in a very different way. Nearly all of Kuwait’s potable water is obtained by reverse osmosis, with millions of barrels of oil firing desalination plants in the state.
Because water is practically free (despite recent price hikes targeting commercial properties and residential buildings mostly inhabited by expats), its consumption and wastage rates are very high. Restrictions on using hoses to clean yards and cars are blatantly flouted, while water-saving nozzle attachments are rarely used, except maybe in mosques.
People in Kuwait have to realize that water is more precious than the black gold that is ensuring its easy availability. Playing with water seems like a bit of harmless fun, but by the end of the holidays, scores of gallons of water will have literally flown down the drain, and the roads will be littered with the limp carcasses of spent water balloons. These watery and rubbery remains will help Kuwait retain the dubious distinctions of being the top per capita consumer of water (500 liters daily) and collector of garbage (4,000 tons daily) in the world. Not something to be proud of.
By Shakir Reshamwala