Water, The Most Vital Human Resource

Published in Health

Hvar is blessed in having a very good water supply. That said, piped water is not yet available across the whole island. The eastern villages between Jelsa and Sućuraj still rely on wells and cisterns filled by rainwater, although projects to connect them to the mains supply by stages are in hand, and have been since about 2010.

In past times, every town and village on Hvar had its own water supply, with a main well (bunar) or rainwater cistern (gustirnakišnica) serving the village as a whole, and individual cisterns for families and their animals. Some large cisterns had a carefully constructed collar of stone called a pjover (from the Italian piovere = to rain) round the edge to direct rainwater into the cavity. Family houses often had ingenious water-flow channels to make sure as much rainwater as possible was directed from the roof to the nearest cistern.

The stream called Vir was the main source of drinking water for Jelsa in Austro-Hungarian times, and still serves as a secondary source in present times. Similarly the Slatina stream which runs along the side of Jelsa's main square used to be drinking water, but now, sadly it is a repository for rubbish and the well which it served has been replaced by a drinking fountain fed from the mains water supply.

The cistern which served Petar Hektorović's fortified villa in Stari Grad bears the inscription 'draga voda' ('dear water'). Water is indeed to be cherished. A supply of fresh water is essential to good health. Without it, crops and kidneys fail, and human lives are lost.

Life in Dalmatia was always tough during the long hot months of summer, especially if the winter rainfall was less than usual. That all changed in 1986, when Hvar was connected to a main source of drinking water from the Cetina river on the mainland by undersea pipes which crossed the island of Brač to reach Hvar. This guaranteed most of the island a year-round supply of high quality fresh water. However, many islanders kept their wells and cisterns functioning even they were no longer essential, mainly to water gardens and vegetable patches. It is a wise precaution to maintain an independent water supply, in case the mains supply is cut off for some reason or (God forbid!) becomes polluted. A lot of people prefer the taste of the fresh rainwater from their cistern to that from the mains supply. Cisterns used for drinking water are usually cleaned out periodically, and the water should be checked for purity by the Water Board.

The mainland connexion was radically upgraded in 2013 with modern bigger pipes to provide greater capacity, as the island was in danger of demand outstripping supply. The final connexion of the pipe from Brač to Hvar was completed on 30th June 2013, the day before Croatia's accession to the European Union. The Director of Hvar's Water Board (Hvarski vodovod) Ivan Grgičević described the moment as a historic one, equal to that when the island's water system was first connected to the mainland in 1986. See the video below for highlights of the complex engineering works that the upgrade entailed (narrative in Croatian). When water was scarce, one can understand that people used it sparingly. Now that most of the island has sufficient for normal needs, water should still be used with discretion, certainly not wasted.

Drinking water is essential for life. In olden times - not that long ago - adult Dalmatians habitually drank bevanda at mealtimes (red wine diluted with water), while children drank water. Nowadays adults still drink the bevanda, but children are offered a vast choice of soft drinks, including concentrated fruit juices, flavoured fizzy drinks, so-called 'energy' drinks and teas. Water does not feature high on the list, so a lot of children are growing up without developing a taste for water. Herbal teas are often recommended for babies in preference to water. Consuming flavoured drinks leads children to dislike the taste of water, and so refuse to drink it. But most of the flavoured drinks on sale are not healthy options, and in recent years many countries have introduced legislation to discourage and limit their sale to children.

There is no substitute for water as the basis for adequate hydration. We get fluids from other sources, including foods, but they do not replace the need for water. Water drinking is a habit that must be encouraged. There is debate about how much water one should drink during the day. In my view, it's not a question of drinking a certain quantity, but rather of keeping the body systems well hydrated and not allowing them to become depleted. As a basic guideline, I recommend drinking a small glass of plain water, perhaps 2 dcl, at the start of the day, and then again at regular intervals, perhaps every hour, until the early evening. Feeling thirsty means you are already dehydrating, so you need to drink to prevent thirst. In hot climates, you need to drink more water, and if humidity is high you may need mineral supplements such as salt tablets as well. Active sports and physical activities such as gardening or labouring will increase your need for water. Because their heat control mechanisms are different from adults', children dehydrate at a faster rate, and should be given water throughout the day. Every summer on Hvar, children are admitted to the emergency department and put on fluid- and salt-replacing drips, because they have dehydrated - a problem which simply would not arise if they drank enough water while playing and swimming in the heat.

Not drinking enough water can lead to various problems, some of them serious. Dehydration can cause calf cramps, especially at night, and dry skin. It can contribute to muscle strains or tears in the legs or back during exercise or physical activities, also kidney stones and a variety of problems relating to the circulatory system, including blood clots. Telltale signs of dehydration include dry lips, dry skin, dark-coloured urine and a tendency to muscle cramps. A simple test is to lie on your stomach and bend and straighten one knee quickly five or six times: if the hamstrings on the back of your thigh cramp up, you are probably dehydrated.

If you are not used to drinking plain water all day, every day, now is the time to start! Do not try to drink a lot in one go, it is better to drink little and often. Also, if you are drinking water regularly, you need to maintain your body's salt levels to avoid hyponatraemia, which can cause many symptoms including unconsciousness or even death. Assuming your diet consists of freshly prepared food, add a little salt to your main meal, do not avoid salt, as is sometimes advised. If you carry water with you when travelling, use a glass bottle carried in a plastic bag in case of breakage. Plastic bottles may contribute to cancers, and are known to harm the thyroid gland, especially in pregnant women and newborn babies. If you cannot avoid using a plastic bottle, do not re-use it. Depending on where you live, you may choose to filter your drinking water. Some places in the world have an adequate supply of drinking-water, but it is not as pure as it could and should be.

Hvar's high quality drinking water is part of the island's opportunities for healthy living. We have to hope that the younger generations learn to enjoy this resource, to use it wisely and to conserve and improve on it for the generations to come.

LinksHvarski Vodovod  - Hvar Water Board, website in Croatian

http://www.who.int/topics/drinking_water/en/ World Health Organisation

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-drink/ European Commission

© Vivian Grisogono 2013

UPDATE, July 2016

Eco Hvar is kept informed of the tests on Hvar's water supply, which are carried out regularly. As the water is not tested for herbicide contamination (this is rarely done anywhere in the world), in 2015 Eco Hvar sent a sample of tap water to a Spanish laboratory. Happily, the result came back completely clear. There's no room for complacency where drinking water is concerned, so it is reassuring to know that every effort is made to keep our water safe at all times.

 

Media

You are here: Home health articles Water, The Most Vital Human Resource

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Activists spend seven days occupying BP rig in Cromarty Firth, leading to 14 arrests

    Greenpeace has ended its protest against BP drilling for oil in the North Sea by handing in “people’s climate injunctions” at the company’s headquarters.

    Greenpeace protesters spent nearly seven days occupying an oil rig rented by BP in the Cromarty Firth in northern Scotland last week, leading to the arrests of 14 activists, including three photographers hired by the pressure group.

    Continue reading...

  • Concern grow over ammonia particles from fertiliser and bioaerosol from intensive farms

    We think of the countryside as being a place of fresh air. Each weekend thousands of us leave our cities to hike or cycle in rural areas or simply to enjoy time in nature. Increasing attention is being given, however, to air pollution from farming. Ammonia from fertiliser and slurry mixes with air pollution from cities, traffic and industry to add to the particle pollution that plagues many parts of the world. It is estimated that halving ammonia from farming could avoid about 52,000 premature deaths from air pollution across Europe each year and 3,000 in the UK.

    Increasing attention is also being paid to bioaerosol from intensive farming. In animal houses these are tiny particles and dust from the animals themselves, their food, bedding and waste. They can also include fungi, bacteria and pollen. A recent review by Imperial College and Public Health England found evidence of respiratory problems in farm workers and raised concerns about exposure for people living close to intensive livestock farms, including some evidence of increased asthma in children. Bioaerosol concerns mean that composting facilities need to be at least 250 metres from UK homes and schools, but farms can be nearer and only require assessment if they are closer than 100 metres.

    Continue reading...

  • Event will take place on 22 September across 18 boroughs, with road closures and events

    Sadiq Khan has announced plans to implement London’s biggest car-free day to date, closing 12.3 miles (20km) of roads in the centre of the capital in September.

    Roads will be closed for the event around London Bridge, Tower Bridge and much of the City of London to help tackle the capital’s air pollution crisis, which kills thousands of people each year and leaves two million – including 400,000 children – living in areas with illegally dirty air.

    Continue reading...

  • MELTDOWN – a visualisation of climate change has opened at Natural History Museum of Vienna. Created by the climate crisis charity Project Pressure, the exhibition on vanishing glaciers uses art to inspire action and behavioural change. Unlike wildfires, flooding and other weather events, the retreat of the world’s glaciers can be attributed to global warming. To incite action, Project Pressure has created a carbon footprint calculator in collaboration with ClimateHero to learn how carbon-intense the users’ lifestyle is.

    Continue reading...

  • MPs launch assembly plan but environmental activists say its conclusions must be binding

    A citizens’ assembly on the climate emergency will take place this autumn to explore the fastest and fairest ways to end the UK’s carbon emissions.

    Six House of Commons select committees announced the assembly on Thursday. It is the second of the three demands made by the Extinction Rebellion protest group to be addressed.

    Continue reading...

  • There are only about 30 north Pacific right whales left after hunters nearly wiped out the slow-moving animals

    Marine biologists for the first time have recorded singing by one of the rarest whales on the planet, the north Pacific right whale.

    Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used moored acoustic recorders to capture repeated patterns of calls made by male north Pacific right whales.

    Continue reading...

  • Ice losses indicate ‘devastating’ future for region and 1 billion people who depend on it for water

    The melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled since the turn of the century, with more than a quarter of all ice lost over the last four decades, scientists have revealed. The accelerating losses indicate a “devastating” future for the region, upon which a billion people depend for regular water.

    The scientists combined declassified US spy satellite images from the mid-1970s with modern satellite data to create the first detailed, four-decade record of ice along the 2,000km (1,200-mile) mountain chain.

    Continue reading...

  • Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic refuse to sign up to text that activists already viewed as too vague

    A trio of central European countries have blocked the EU from inching closer to a net-zero carbon emissions target for 2050.

    European leaders meeting in Brussels sparred over the EU’s role in tackling the unfolding climate emergency, which threatens to significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat, poverty and destruction of wildlife around the world.

    Continue reading...

  • Mass migration back to UK waylaid by stormy conditions and lack of nesting places

    The number of swifts that returned to Britain from their wintering grounds in Africa this spring was the lowest since records began, with poor weather in the Mediterranean delaying their arrival by two weeks. Experts fear the recent wet weather will further hit their numbers. Swift numbers in Britain have fallen by more than 50% since 1995.

    More than 100 walks, talks and visits to urban areas to witness the swift’s aerial “screaming parties” will be held this week to raise awareness of the plight of this unique migratory bird.

    Continue reading...

  • Shell, BP and Centrica have talked of backing EU emissions target but withheld support

    The UK’s largest energy companies have withheld support for a legally binding target to reduce the EU’s emissions to net zero by 2050, even while publicly backing the plans.

    Royal Dutch Shell, BP and British Gas’s owner, Centrica, have all publicly thrown their weight behind more ambitious EU emissions cuts, but none supported the Brussels proposals for a tougher target in an official consultation.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds