Living Without: Running Water

Running water…who needs it?

Not most PCVs in Moz…nor the 2.6 billion other people in this world living without indoor plumbing or improved sanitation. In fact, more people in this world have a mobile phone than have access to a toilet. But why should it matter? I’m writing this from the other side of the world and, if you’re reading this in the states, you can probably look around your immediate area and identify at least one source of clean and safe water.

But here’s the deal. About 1.7 million of those 2.6 billion people with limited access to safe water live in the US. And our water stores around the world are being depleted at a rapid rate. If we’re not careful, half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by the year 2030…meaning the demand for water will exceed the physically available amount.

Scary, right?

That’s why what is happening at Standing Rock in North Dakota is important, why the Rampal situation in Bangladesh matters, why Rio de Janeiro deserved more attention for Guanabara Bay than for the Summer Olympics, why protests in Ireland and India over water rights should be closer to the forefront of our global consciousness and international conversations.

Here’s what I’ve learned while living on carted, limited water over the last 7 months:

  1. It’s more than possible to live on 125 liters of water a week. That’s right. 125 liters all stored up in 5 jerrycans. Or, for those of you better acquainted with the customary unit system, about 33 gallons for all of my drinking, cooking, bathing, and cleaning needs. And most of that allowance goes to staying hydrated.
  2. I’m much more conscious of how and where I use water. The water in those 5 jerrycans? Well, it has to come from somewhere. It’s most often collected from the spigot in our quintal, but the government controls that water and it’s only turned on 2-3 times a week. And a lot of people rely on that faucet. The supply gets tight some weeks, and water has to be dug up and carried from the riverbed instead of waiting for it to turn on in the backyard. In either case, I have found myself acutely aware of how I am spending my water stores. This can lead to some interesting priorities and hard life choices…like do I want to bathe or have clean dishes? Do laundry or have filtered drinking water? Flush the toilet or mop the floor? It’s a constant personal battle.
  3. Washing dishes by hand can be gross and time consuming but it works. A necessary evil, if you will. More often than not, dishes are the last thing I want to do at the end of the day. But I fill up my basin on the floor and get to scrubbing, and 15 minutes later I have clean plates.
  4. Bucket baths aren’t that bad. Some days they feel inconvenient, but the truth of the matter is they get the job done. It takes a particular level of skill to pour and scrub at the same time, but a shower is a shower. One just takes a little longer than the other.
  5. Neither is a dump-flush toilet. Although, believe it or not, I would much prefer a pit latrine. I know, I never thought I would say that. The dump-flush system is just a toilet stool positioned over a latrine pit, so it’s flushed by force from water being poured into the bowl. Aside from having to keep a big bucket of flushing water in the casa de banho, it’s really not all that different than your standard American toilet.
  6. We waste an incredible amount of water in the States. The US boasts some of the highest rates of daily water consumption in the world, around 600 liters per person. The average American uses 189 liters of water in a 10-minute shower (an average of 19 liters/minute), a single run of the dishwasher calls for an average of 42 liters, one load of laundry requires about 114 liters, and a single flush of the toilet will cost an impressive 11.5 liters of water. Those numbers in Mozambique? I’d tally them up at around 6 liters if I’m washing my hair, 4 liters to do almost all the dishes in my kitchen, 10 liters if I’m washing half the clothes I own here, and 3 liters if toilet paper is involved. THAT’S A DIFFERENCE OF 333.5 LITERS OF WATER. That’s 88 gallons of unused water that I don’t miss and can easily live without. Think about that.

Life without running water sure is interesting, but I wouldn’t change it. Some days it is frustrating and feels inconvenient, but it forces me to be conscious of my actions. It keeps me learning, humble, and aware of how my choices impact my environment.

If you’re ever looking for a little challenge: try quantifying your water intake for a day, turning on your hose, putting that amount in containers, and abstaining from all that indoor plumbing for 24 hours. I promise it will change your perspective in unexpected and enriching ways.

The world needs more water protectors and people invested in conservation.


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