Thursday, March 22, 2012

World Water Day - 2012

Today, March 22, 2012, is World Water Day

Most of us have always had access to running hot and cold water and could not imagine life without it. The following paragraph is an excerpt of an article I wrote when I lived in El Salvador, Central America, some years ago.

“I am living in a small room (6’ x 6’) in the local church. I have no TV, no radio, no sink, no phone, and no fridge. Actually, I do have a sink but it is outdoors and I use it to wash clothes and dishes and to store water in daily for use during the times when there is no water available. We do have water on this street but only from 7 am to 11 am every day. (4 hours) and that is not guaranteed. It is actually very liberating washing the body, the clothes and dishes (not at the same time) outdoors in the sunshine. :-) The sink is called a pilar and is very important to the way of life here. One learns to adapt very quickly and as soon as the water is turned on in the morning I hurry to get the very cold water, wash, and get ready for the day.”

While in El Salvador I witnessed many things related to water. I was in a small village outside of Santa Ana and most of the people had no running water. There was a very small waterfall at the end of ‘la linea’ (the railroad line) and the women would bathe there. Washing their hair and showering with their clothing on, while washing their dress at the same time. Then, still wearing the clothing, let it air dry in the sunshine. After this they filled large containers with water and carried them on their head to their homes.

The next village over was Masacua, and all of the people shared one water pump in the center of the village. Later, another more modern water faucet was installed (still only one for the whole village). The entire community turned out for the blessing of the water – giving thanks to God that they finally had clean running water from a deep well. There were no toilets in Masacua at the time I arrived there and a few months later some young men came from Belgium and installed some raised toilets – one for each family. The villagers would chuckle because the toilets were built up high and one had to walk up about eight cement steps to reach it - they were flushed with chemicals and a bucket of water. They named them the ‘tronos real’ (royal thrones).

I witnessed the factories from the United States pumping chemical waste into the local rivers which turned the water dark brown. No concern was given that this was the water that the local people had to drink. I agonized over the fact that in the United States they had to follow environmental safety laws and in Central America there are no such laws and the local children are dying from the contaminated water. I complained loudly to the companies but no one listened. I still feel that if the companies know that their product pollutes the water then they have a moral responsibility to put precautions in place.

In the first weeks that I was there I became very ill from drinking the water and after about two months I decided I would buy bottled water so that I would not get sick again. I'm sorry to tell you that the local people did not have the option to do that and I felt uncomfortable about it but I decided that in order to be effective in my work there I needed to stay healthy.

There was a very ingenious local water site that the men had built. There was a small river in the town from which the men had channeled the water into a swimming pool where the children could play, and the same water was again channeled into about 50 stone community sinks where the women would come and wash their clothes. The wastewater from the sinks was then directed back into the flow of the river. The women would place the clothing on the bushes along the river so that they could dry in the sunshine.

Another common sight was to see men washing daily at a public stone pilar (sink) along the side of the road on their way to work.

I had heard from the women that Health workers from other countries had come to the village to teach the women about the basic hygiene of washing their hands after everything that they do, to prevent the spread of germs. The women explained to me that they felt this was ridiculous as the one heavy container of water that they carried home daily could not be wasted on repeated hand washing.

I could give many more examples. One thing that I learned personally was to value water and when I returned to the U.S. I became very frugal with the use of water. So much so that one day the local Water Department made a visit to my home because they were sure that the water meter must not be working. My bill for several months was only $7. I explained that I had learned how to conserve water while living in Central America. They found it hard to believe but found nothing wrong with the meter. :-)

Friends, according to the United Nations, about 1.4 billion people lack access to clean water and 2.4 billion people lack adequate sanitation. Because of this, over 9,000 children die daily. Please check out the United Nations website to see what you can do to help.


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