The other day, as I began my usual morning routine of waking up at the last minute and nearly killing myself attempting to complete at least 5 tasks at once, I heard the rush of water running. In the background, behind the news blaring on the TV (trying to get a campaign update), and the local radio blaring in the background (trying to avoid traffic on the way to work), I realized that at least two faucets in my apartment were running at the same time.
I had a Tanzanian flashback. One of those “once upon a time, when water was hard to come by…” moments. Getting enough water was a recurrent theme - a major focus of each and every day. This included making plans in case one would have to “do without”, especially hard for a western woman who was used to turning on the tap, and having water on demand. On average, we had running water all day, every other day. Usually it would come back on within a couple of hours, but we could never be sure. Once, I when I hadn’t set aside extra water for one of those “just in case” times, we didn’t have water for almost a day and a half. There was no creek or pond so we couldn’t even haul it back to the house. On so many occasions, mother would hope, and I would pray that the pump wasn’t broken!
To those who have never experienced lack of water, it’s a helluva thing! It means having toilets that don’t flush (stinky, stank!!!), being unable brush teeth (daammn!!), wash hair, clean off the afternoon sweat and dust, have evening chai, and on, and on, and on…Actually, for women, it also means not being able to relieve yourself freely when you need to. For me, the worst thing about not having water, was not being able to have chai, in addition to being sweaty and covered in dust from head to foot.
The other day, I had a conversation with a friend of mine from Europe who was also living in Tanzania. She was expressing her frustrations because she didn’t have hot running water for a shower every morning, and the mere thought of boiling water every morning and bathing out of a bucket was too much trouble. I clenched my teeth and smiled sweetly. I didn’t want to make her feel bad, but I wanted to tell her be glad she had running water at all. Mother and I were constantly boiling water and bathing out of a bucket, sometimes twice a day, soo happy that we had water. Don’t even ask me how she survived for almost 2 years.
According to the U.S. Department of State:
“Today, more than 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water; 2.6 billion people – almost half the total population in developing countries - lack access to proper sanitation.
On any given day, approximately 50% of the world’s hospital beds are filled with patients suffering from water and sanitation related diseases. Each year 1.8 million children in developing countries die from diarrhea disease - the second leading cause of death after pneumonia. Globally, diarrhea kills at least as many people as tuberculosis or malaria, and five times more children than HIV/AIDS.
Beyond their direct public health consequences, inadequate water supply and sanitation are especially important issues for women and girls. Women and girls who lack access to sanitation facilities must often wait until dark to relieve themselves or do so in public and risk harassment and/or abuse. Young girls are less likely to attend classes if the school does not have suitable hygiene facilities. This is particularly true after puberty and in areas where girls have access to adequate sanitation at home. One United Nations study estimates that half the girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who drop out of primary school do so because of poor water and sanitation facilities.
The United States supports the two internationally agreed targets related to water and sanitation. These goals are commonly referred to as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on water and sanitation”.
I know I shouldn’t waste water, but for some reason, I left the tap running for a few more minutes, just to make sure it wasn’t a dream.