Water For Life
Ten days ago the team left Red Deer and the comforts of our homes, including endless streams of tap water, showers and toilets, as well as outdoor faucets to water lawns, wash cars and hose down the driveway. While our accommodations at the IN Uganda guest house are not nearly as modern, they do include basic bathroom sinks, rudimentary showers [half of the team’s function well while the other half struggle to get wet some days], toilets and cooking water [once boiled] all supplied by harvested rainwater. For Uganda, we are staying in what most Ugandans can only dream about, as we also have cement floors, screened windows, lights and power to recharge computers, cameras and cell phones.
But, more about water. Only the day after arriving some of the team were exploring the expansive IN Uganda ground and facilities when we saw a number of school and community children at a water well, pumping water into countless jerry cans which they carry back to their homes. Twice a day they make the round trip to supply home with water needed for cooking, drinking and cleaning, with some children we are sure walking up to 3 kilometers each way (in the more rural areas the distance can be much farther). As children (both girls and boys) grow older the jerry cans get progressively larger and heavier. Some team members pumped water into numerous cans much to the pleasure of the children who otherwise would do it themselves, if they could not convince a friend or sibling to do it for them. Having seen so many cans filled, we were pleased at the availability of water.
A few days later we visited rural homes to observe how the people live and assist in some basic everyday duties. One of these was to fetch water from ‘nearby’ springs (a previous blog showed a number of pictures of this activity). Both springs provided ample water, while challenging us with long walks (over 3 km for the two sites) much up steep hills (our phone health app said we climbed 22 flights of stairs). Yet, once again we observed ample water for the surrounding communities (i.e. neighbourhoods) homes and schools.
Today we observed another abundant spring where local residents were coming for water for home, small groups of school children (some as a form of discipline) getting water for various school needs, and men with numerous jerry cans on bicycles collecting water to market it to others.
However, the picture is not as ‘rosy’ as we so far had observed. During our meeting with the Deputy Mayor he elaborated on many community challenges, including the availability of water. While the ‘planned’ portion of Buikwe has a piped water system, he told us of four considerable problems: because of the prolonged drought the stored water is getting low; when the power goes off water cannot be pumped through the system; the municipality has insufficient funds to pay for the amount of pumping to supply the community needs; and residents most often cannot afford to pay for sufficient amounts of water. Currently, the stand pipes throughout the community stand ‘dry’.
Then we went to spring which a large neighbourhood relies on, but it was dry, this becoming more and more the case as the drought continues. The fundamental need for water struck home when we saw a very young girl at a dirty pool of water with a jerry can laying sideways to let water flow in. When no more would go in she uprighted the can and proceeded to cup her hands to fill the jerry can. Her duty was interrupted when Trista gave her half a bottle of clean water, which the girl voraciously drank to the last drop. After she ‘washed’ the outside of the jerry can, she capped it and made her way in the sun and heat up the hill – probably her second trip of the day. The local health officer who was with us said they advise that the ‘spring’ water be boiled, which often does not happen, and that the water the little girl was taking home definitely needed to be boiled, but may not be depending on how busy the mother is (thus the spread of water borne diseases).
We were also shown a pump that was completely useless. Provided by an NGO, after a time of insufficient maintenance and the lack of commitment or understanding of the ‘maintenance committee’ to do so, the pump became inoperable. Adam, being trained in water matters, observed the various issues and deficiencies and has been approached by community officials to help them strategize to address the challenges.
The access to water is vital, yet a good portion of the population struggle daily to have sufficient water. Every drop counts as shown by the young girl draining the bottle of water. We in Red Deer take water for granted. I for one will have a tough time not thinking of that little girl when I empty a glass of water into the sink. Water for Life – think about it.
Bill & the Team