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Alice in waterland: a fantasy

This story is fictional. Any resemblance to real situations or persons is pure coincidence.

When Alice stepped through the mirroring water surface into waterland, the first creature she came across was a rabbit, wearing a UN-blue jacket, looking frantically at its watch.

“It is nearly time. Only three more years to go till 2015. So little time left. We won’t make it. We must hurry up.”, it mumbled to itself.

“Hey Mr. Rabbit”, said Alice, “what is all the hurry about? What must be done before 2015?”.

“Don’t you know? There is an MDG target to meet. Two in fact. Or actually one, as we have already met one. That is, everyone says we met it. But we don’t actually know”.

“How can you not know it, if you just said that you met the target?”.

“It is simple”, the blue-vested rabbit responded, “we measure who has a tap or a pump, but we don’t measure whether the tap works, or whether any water comes out, let alone whether it is drinkable. Through such a measure we can always say that we met the MDG and also say we don’t know. Easy, isn’t it?”

“And what about the other target?”, Alice asked. “

That is why I am in a hurry. There is no way we will meet that target, so, we must do all we can to meet it”.

“I am confused now; are you going to meet the target if you put in more effort, or wouldn’t that help anyway?”.

“The only thing that is more challenging than a moving target, is fixing a target and then giving the responsibility to someone else”.

“What do you mean, Mr. Rabbbit?”.

“Come, let me show you at the poo-ing field”.

Alice and Mr Rabbit walked to a smelly patch of grass, full of poo. In the middle stood the throne of the Queen of Hearts and Minds. A man and a woman kneeled in front of the throne.

“You have been found defecating in the open. Hereby I name and shame you, as perpetrators of the first rule, issued by me, the Queen of Hearts and Minds: thou shall not defecate in the open. Off with their heads!”

“What?!”, Alice shouted, “will they be beheaded for this?”.

“Don’t worry”, the rabbit with the blue vest answered, “the Queen speaks in metaphors. But they will be forced to build their own toilet. By naming and shaming them, the people will want to have a  toilet, know everything about fecal-oral contamination routes and thus use the toilets happily ever after. Let’s have a look at them”.

They walked to the edge of the field, where a line of make-shift toilets was being built. A foul smell came from them.

“Brrr, I wouldn’t want to use one of these toilets. They are smelly, and one could easily fall into the pit. Why are they so ramshackle?, Mr. Rabbit?”

“That is obvious. These people were too poor to be able to afford a toilet. That is why they poo-ed in the field. Now, they are still too poor to afford a toilet, so they build a ramshackle one. But don’t worry that someone will fall into the pit. Once the Queen moves her court to the next poo-ing field, they will go back and use the poo-ing field.”

“But, then, you will never be able to reach your target?”

“Clever girl. And that is why I am in a hurry to still meet the target. I need to go now. I still need to drill 10576 boreholes, re-build 75324 water systems, reach 756 million beneficiaries, and….”

Alice didn’t hear the last words of the rabbit, as it hopped away. Walking further through waterland, she bumped into a U-shaped meeting table.

“I am the Mad Chatter”, the main said who was making the table, “who are you?”.

“I am Alice”.

“ALICE? You mean the Agricultural Land-use and Integrated Centre of Excellence? Or are you the Association for Livelihoods and Irrigation for Community Empowerment?”

“No, I am just Alice”.

“Odd. Oh, it is Tea Time. You want some tea? Or, you prefer a bottle of water?”

“A bottle of water? I thought I was in waterland. Why do you have bottles of water on your meeting table, and not nice fresh tap water?”

“The taps are not working. And even if they were working, I wouldn’t trust the quality of the water”, the Mad Chatter responded. “Nobody here drinks the water he produces”. “I have a riddle for you, Alice. Why is water pump like a writing desk?”

“I don’t know”, Alice responded.

“Because both stand still in time”

“What do you mean? Why does the water pump stand still? Is that, why the taps are not working”.

“Let me explain. It is a long story. One day the Queen of Hearts and Minds ordered that everyone needed to pay for the pumps in waterland to work, 10 Shillings per person. I stood up to her and told her it was madness and that we would only pay 5 Shillings per person. She agreed. We all paid our 5 Shillings and the pumps worked fine. Exactly after 5 years, all pumps broke down. But there was no money to repair them. The Queen ordered time to stand still at that moment, as our punishment for not wanting to pay. The advantage is that it is now always Tea Time. The disadvantage is that we don’t have water to make tea. Can I offer you a bottle of water?”

“Why don’t you then pay for the repair yourselves?”

“Oh, we will just wait for someone to come by and repair it”

“But, if nobody comes by?”

“Then we just drink water from a bottle”

“Isn’t that more expensive? This doesn’t sound sustainable”

“You ask too many questions. Do you know what is sustainable?”

“Uhm, when water comes out of the tap all the time…”, Alice answered.

“Wrong!!!! Sustainable is when the water service is gender-balanced, climate-change-proof, strategically-developed, with bottom-up-top-down participation, in a clearly articulated action-based framework, with multiple-use life-cycle costs considering equitable disadvantaged groups with a sniff of water quality. And of course it is based on principles of integrated resources planning, user payments for low-costs appropriate technology design and institutional embedding of post-construction support and any other building block you can think of”.

Slightly intimidated by the Mad Chatter’s answer, Alice asked: “But, isn’t it more important that eventually water comes from the tap

“Nooooo. We have discussed this over a long time. In fact, I was busy making the meeting table for the next meeting of the International Standing Committee to Discuss the Final Definite Definition of Sustainability of Water Supplies (and Sanitation) (and Hygiene). We will once again review the definition. You are distracting me with your smart questions”.

“Don’t listen to him. He is just a Mad Chatter” Alice heard in her ear.

“Who are you? I don’t see you”.

“Look up here, in the tree”, she heard again.

Then Alice saw it. It looked as if an organogram was hanging in the three.

“I am an Isomorphic Mimicry”.

When Alice came closer to the look at the Isomorphic Mimicry, the organogram disappeared, and only empty boxes were left, dangling from the tree.

“I have never seen or heard of an Isomorphic Mimicry”, Alice said. “What do you do in waterland?”

“I don’t actually exist”, the Isomorphic Mimicry answered. I exist in the mind of people. Here in waterland, the Queen draws organograms of water committees, district water offices, municipal water planning technicians and regulators. But actually, she, nor her assistants, ever bothered to equip any of these bodies. So, the water committee exists in the organogram, but when you go and look nobody is there. The municipal water planning technician was hired, but never paid his salary, so he left.”

“That must be a sad existence, not to exist”.

“To the contrary”, the Isomorphic Mimicry, answered. “I receive full attention all the time. The Queen and her assistants always talk about me, as if I exist. Sometimes, they even change me. Last week they drew a new arrow between the municipal water planning technician and the water committee, so the non-existent municipal water planning technician can be accountable to the non-existent water committee. A few days later, they turned the arrow around so the non-existent water committee would be accountable to the non-existent municipal water planning technician.”

“But, then are you not a fantasy?”

“Listen, Alice. Waterland is built on myths and fantasies. You have just experienced some of them: the run-away targets, the first rule of the Queen of Hearts and Minds and the sustainability chatter. As Isomorphic Mimicry, I am but one of them, so don’t blame me. There is nothing wrong with fantasies, when they are dreams about an ideal you can achieve. But don’t believe that you have achieved your dream when reality shows you something different. That would be the wrong kind of fantasy, that wouldn’t help waterland. So, wake up and separate your dreams from fantasy.”

The End.

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2 comments on “Alice in waterland: a fantasy

  1. A healthy dose of self-reflective cynicism is always good!

  2. Reblogged this on Rural Water Supply Network – Blog and commented:
    in case you missed it from a couple of weeks ago, when the RWSN editor was out of the country…

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