Home | TheWaterBlog

TheWaterBlog: If you want to share unique images and observations in this section, or would like to know about syndicating these posts, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

 

posted by Frank van Steenbergen
December 31, 2012

alt

Several sociologists such as Johan Goudsbloem have chronicled the fascinating story of time – how uniform systems of measuring time developed even in the unconnected world of the past– with hours being equally long all over the world, minutes starting at the same time and calendars synchronized. Trade and international travel were major drivers behind measurement of time in a uniform way, as they were with other standardizations.

The question is also what was the earliest measurement of time – minutes and hours? When did it first start and begin to matter? One contender for answer is the time management of irrigation systems in desert areas. Here, water is often divided on the basis of time units. Each farmer receives a time slot of a fixed duration during which to water his land.

To allocate such timeshares to everybody was no sinecure and in the earlier days must have involved specialists. Sundials could be used during daylight hours but at night the movement of stars had to be observed. This was expert work requiring the services of a water master.  See for instance pg 38-39 of Traditional Irrigation Systems & Methods of Water Harvesting in Hadramout....  

Another timekeeping system was the water clock that was parcelling out small time units – useful if time shares were very small (minutes or quarter hours) or when the sky was overcast.

Here is a picture of such a clock from the remote village of Karkh in the Mekran in the west of Pakistan (Balochistan). The picture was taken twenty years ago.  The little bowl that is floating in the larger bowl has a small opening in the bottom. Through this well-calibrated opening, the little bowl gradually fills with water till the point when it is so full that it sinks. At that time, one fixed time unit is said to have passed. In the case of this particular water clock, it was 15 minutes.

Such systems are perhaps nowhere in use any longer. Also, in many arid areas the traditional water masters have disappeared. While some may attribute this development to the overall demise of community management, the actual reason is probably far more mundane. What signalled the end of the water masters was not the collapse of local solidarity and cohesion but the introduction of cheap wristwatches. It made it no longer necessary to maintain the services of these expensive timekeepers – who had to be compensated in terms of timeshare, a proportion of the crop or in cash. 

Time, water: equally precious.

  • Good Neighbours

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen December 24, 2012The coming year will be the International Year of Water Cooperation. While there has been much debate on coming ‘water wars’ and there are sordid examples of international conflicts,  there is a much larger amount of cooperation fortunately  – especially at local level where people know each other and are friends, neighbours and fellow hu...

    Read more

  • Mekong: A River, its people and Big Dams

    posted by Michael Victor, CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. document.getElementById('cloak547d1388f9eb5d6cc60729ff113eff5f').innerHTML = ''; var prefix = 'ma' + 'il' + 'to'; var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '='; var addy547d1388f9eb5d6cc60729ff113eff5f = 'm.victor' + '...

    Read more

  • Controlling the micro-environment

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen December 13, 2012Whereas pressurized irrigation systems- such as drip and sprinklers- are widely promoted to save water, their largest benefit may lie not in the water saving, but in the higher production they make possible. While this is not new (the so-called Comprehensive Assessment estimated already that micro-irrigation systems achieve 5-56% higher yield), it o...

    Read more

  • A Shuimu, or How A River Came About

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen December 03, 2012In the Jinci temple near Taiyuan (China), amid an amazing variety of historical and spiritual buildings and millennia old trees there is the home of the serene River Goddess – or Shuimu.  This small place of worship dates back to 1563. Its story is one of the every-day miracle of the kind-hearted.A girl was betrothed to a man who was weak and inv...

    Read more

  • Eye on the Nile

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen November 28, 2012Early 2011, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia surprised everybody by announcing the construction of the Millennium Dam (subsequently renamed the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile) not far from the border with Sudan – at a location identified in the past as ‘the Border Dam’.The timing of the announcement (as so many other mo...

    Read more

  • Cold weather irrigation

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen November 22, 2012With demand for fruit and vegetables increasing all over China, greenhouses have made an appearance in more unlikely, cold weather areas such as Lishi county in the mountain areas of Shanxi. The greenhouses in Lishi resemble the semi-arched structures common in other parts of the Province - but with several modifications are made. To deal with the c...

    Read more

  • Prosopis: The Green Scourge

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen, Abraham Mehari Haile, Abebe Demissie and Francesco Sambalino November 12, 2012It has turned large hot dry plains green in the last thirty years – but still it is a major scourge that goes largely unattended: mesquite or under its official botanical name prosopis juliflora. In the last thirty years this hardy well rooted shrub made its way from Latin America to al...

    Read more

  • Groundwater under the West Bank: more than H2O

    posted by Rozemarijn ter Hoorst October 29, 2012Groundwater in the West Bank is much more than just H20. It is more than a resource used for drinking, bathing, and washing. Water in the West Bank has become a political commodity for a substantial part, governed at the highest political levels.Israelis and Palestinians become more divided every year by the construction of the separation wall (also ...

    Read more

  • Does basin management make sense?

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen October 22, 2012It is fair to say that basin management has been the celebrity cause for integrated water management. In principle, basin management brings all hydrological process together. As such it is instrumental in finding a balance between different but highly inter-related  interests in water use. Basin management is, for instance, the centrepiece of the mu...

    Read more

  • Azores: A World Heritage of Creative Water Use

    posted by Francesco Sambalino October 15, 2012The volcanic islands of Azores are incredibly beautiful and unspoilt. People there manage soil and water with a lot of creativity to grow their crops.Back in time they used coastal "tidal wells," in which the water from tides would mix  with the scarce fresh water available. This enabled conjunctive use of fresh and salty water for domestic uses such ...

    Read more