Australia’s literacy and numeracy standards have been all over the news in recent days. But how much thought do we give to water literacy?

I spent the late 1950’s attending kindergarten to third class at Beaumont Road Public School in the leafy North Shore suburb of West Killara. It was leafy then, as it is now, high on a ridge above the Lane Cove River. Leafy with eucalypts and bushfire fuel.

I have many happy memories of that first decade of my life. Boiling the billy on the rocky outcrops above the river. Throwing rocks at snakes, sunning themselves on rock ledges lower down near the riverbank. My first two-wheeler bike.

Change was happening at pace too. A septic tank replaced the weekly visit from the ‘dunny-man’. Tar replaced dirt although kerb and guttering never came in my time. My parents bought our first car and television set.

And a neighbouring school up on the Pacific Highway, Lindfield Primary, was one of the first schools, if not the first, in the state to have a 25m outdoor swimming pool. Learning to swim was becoming the birthright of Aussie kids - at least in more privileged suburbs of the city. I can remember the excitement we felt when Beaumont Road Public School’s allocated week for swimming lessons came around early in the Autumn of 1959.

Water Literacy

We live in a country where water literacy is right up there with reading, writing and arithmetic. As Tim Winton says, most Australians live on the verandah of the nation. If we can’t see and smell the ocean, the vast majority of the population is only a short drive from doing so.

Have you ever reflected on the wonderful gift of the ability to swim? We hardly give it a moment's thought because it is so ordinary. Most of us have it. 

Have you ever stopped to thank our Creator for the joy of surfing (body, board or splashing in the shallows), wading into a deep water estuary late at night when the prawns are running or snorkelling around a rock platform or coral reef?

Have you considered the vulnerability people who are not water literate? People who migrate here from third world landlocked countries, where swimming was a luxury for just a few and not a life-saving life-skill for all?

More Water Literacy

Swimming itself seems to be a luxurious sort of water literacy. What about clean water, sanitation and hygiene? There are communities in poorer areas of major cities and remote rural areas in parts of the world who are losing their young to water-borne diseases for lack of safe clean water for drinking, personal hygiene and food preparation.

In Gambella, Ethiopia, a water literacy project of a different kind is saving the life of hundreds, if not thousands, of these children from certain death. Dr Wendy Le Marquand, wife of the Anglican Bishop for the Horn of Africa, is training mothers to train other mothers, who train other mothers in simple techniques of sanitation, hygiene, water purification and rehydration of sick children. 

This ‘train the trainer’ model is radiating out into hundreds of communities of South Sudanese refugees who have flooded across the border into Ethiopia to escape conflict and famine. In the harsh environment of Gambella where summer temperatures are regularly over 50 degrees centigrade this marvellous ministry of grace is unfolding.

Most Water Literacy

I have often asked myself the question of who are the poorest of the poor of the earth? The answer could be the millions of refugees fleeing their homes and countries for a safe haven somewhere else.

But is it not those who have no water? No water, no livestock. No water, no crops. No water no food. No water, no life. I am told that the human body can ‘live’ for three days without water, a bit longer if immobilised. 

It is interesting to note that it was on the third day of their trek in the Desert of Shur (Exodus 15:22-27) with no water in sight, and just after the triumphant Red Sea crossing, that thirst really began to bite for the redeemed people of God. They are again in water stress in Exodus 17. I have often written them off as a useless, whinging, whining bunch of no-hopers for their lack of trust in God.

But if I wake up in the morning after seven hours without water and discover that the local council have cut off the water for a half day’s maintenance, I’m as grumpy as grandpa bear. Without water to add to my herbs and drugs (tea and coffee) I want to bring down the government for their incompetence.

Lord, forgive me! How graciously we are provided for.

Ultimate Water Literacy

It is because water is so fundamental to human life that it is used in the Bible as a metaphor for the life God gives.

In Isaiah God call us to quench our thirst in the life God offers through his grace and mercy (Isaiah 55). Not just with water, but with the finest of wine and the finest of fine dining that is found at his table.

Only in Jesus can we receive the water that will quench our insatiable thirst for life (John 4:14, John 6:35) even to the point of being an abundant source of thirst quenching life for others  as well as ourselves through the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37). In Jesus there is fullness of life (John 10:10).

Anglican Aid’s ‘Water Works for a Thirsty World’ initiative is all about water literacy for a world in water stress.

I’m told the pool at Lindfield Public School is still there after 60 years. Like me, I’m sure it’s looking a little worse for wear. Short a tile or two. I suspect its plumbing is probably not what it used to be either. 

But how much life has that pool saved?

How much life can we help to save?

How important is water literacy?