Incredible landscapes, salt lakes, and, of course, whale sharks, motivated me to pack my duffle bag, put on my trekking shoes, and ditch the comfort in Dubai to board a flight to the ultimate adventure destination: Djibouti. This was mainly due to my plans to visit the most rural of locations where local and nomadic tribes live.
I traveled to the country located at the horn of Africa, knowing full well that I will be living in basic circumstances for 5 days: sleeping under the stars, hiking for hours, no indoor plumbing, no cellular connection and on-the-go food. It was the trip of a lifetime; however, from the very beginning of my adventure, one thing constantly stood out in my mind.
We first reached Abbe Bad valley and trekked into a forest of limestone volcanic chimneys. The chimneys were formed before the desertification of the area, as a result of hot water vapor and magma rising to the surface which later materialized in contact with the cold water of the lake. We drove for hours through fascinating landscapes, camped overnight in a Bedouin camp, and hiked for a day to make our way to Lake Assal, one of the world’s saltiest lakes.
I soon started to see a common theme among the places we visited in Djibouti: dryness. Areas that were carved out by previously running rivers are now nothing more than stretches of cracked lands as far as the eye can see. The heat was intense, to say the least, as I constantly found myself reaching for the 3 bottles of water I had. Yes, I had three small bottles of water and I was very cautious about my water consumption, worrying about running out and having to brave through thirst and dehydration. That, in fact, was a slight taste of what the Bedouins in the area go through on a daily basis, travelling for hours to obtain drinking water.
This trip, originally planned for the thrill of the adventure, has uncovered for me a crisis facing Djibouti that I was too oblivious to know prior to travelling there. Our tour guide talked about the rarity of rainfall in the country, furrowing his brows as he remembered when it rained last…it was two years ago.
Djibouti is considered to be one of the world’s most water-poor countries. According to UNICEF, a decade of drought is leaving over 240,000 Djiboutians in a vulnerable state as wells and other water sources are increasingly drying up. Stubborn drought conditions have led to deteriorated humanitarian conditions in Djibouti, where the scarcity of water and soil in the country, in combination with its dry climate, are leading to the destruction of crops, death of cattle, malnutrition, unemployment and an overall increase in poverty.
By now, you might be thinking: how does the water crisis in Djibouti affect me?
In short, and this is a bit of a cliché, water is life. Access to clean and safe water can be the key to improving many problems such as malnutrition, the spread of diseases, poverty, and more.
On a personal level, my trip to Djibouti and the challenge I faced with regards to managing my water supply have provided me with a whole new level of appreciation to something that I took for granted. It is a massive privilege to turn the faucets everyday to find water flowing through, to easily replace that empty gallon of water on top of the water cooler with a new one, and to use clean water to cook my everyday meals.
As it turns out, despite the fact that 70% of our planet is covered with water, the vast majority of it, 97.5%, is seawater that is unfit for human consumption. Only 3% of water on earth is fresh water that is safe for us to use, two-thirds of which is inaccessible. This, however, is rapidly changing. With rising temperatures and a growing human population, our water resources are now under pressure more than ever before.
At this rate of consumption behavior, two-thirds of the global population may live in water stressed conditions by 2025, while almost 50% of the world’s population will face high levels of water shortage by 2030. That is much sooner that we can imagine.
The water crisis, in reality, is not only affecting Djibouti. It is something that impacts us all, if not now, then in the very near future. It’s really up to individuals, starting with myself, to re-assess our consumption habits and work towards preserving one extra drop of water every single day.