When I was back in California for a brief three-week respite before beginning this next adventure, the state was experiencing a drought. Though it had rained a decent amount this year, it wasn’t enough to make up for what has been called one of the severest droughts on record. It’s a frightening thing anywhere, and especially for a place that produces so much food for the country. While I was gone this past year, my parents started taking measures to do their part to conserve water. Dad ripped out both the front and back lawn, replacing the backyard with astroturf and the front yard with some desert plants and a dry “creek” (think: beautiful stones shaped like a stream bed). They also take “drought showers”, and by that I mean they only turn on the water to get wet and then turn it off again until they rinse off. Drought is no joke.
Then I move 10,000 + miles away only to discover that Southern Mozambique is experiencing a severe drought as well. And it’s seriously affecting people here. One of the guys in my cohort says that his family is unemployed currently, because they had worked prior in agriculture, but there isn’t enough water to sustain all the crops that had been growing before. Reports show that 1.5 million people were in need of humanitarian food assistance this year in the south and central provinces of the country due to the drought. Here in Namaacha, while we aren’t going hungry because of the drought by any means, we are beginning to notice its effects. Take, for example, the fact that last Wednesday, my brother had to wait 4.5 hours at the well to draw water. Or the fact that my sister woke up at 3 am to avoid that problem this past Saturday. This is happening all over town despite the fact that specific areas have assigned days when they can use the wells, just to avoid overcrowding. Every time I’ve walked past the well near my house and near our English hub, there are several people waiting and dozens of buckets waiting to be filled. My mãe told me that there is so much stress on the fontenarias here because there are no other sources of water available. When we use water in the house, we are reminded almost daily by mãe not to waste water because it is in short supply.
Which bring me to my next point. How much water do we use here? How does water work when you can’t just turn on any tap in your home and have this life-giving substance at the ready? Everyone uses wells, because that is what is available to us. The closest well is about a minute’s walk away near Mama Graca’s house. Every Wednesday and Saturday, one of my siblings heads to the well with many plastic containers and a rickety wheel barrow. They have to wait until the well is free, and then proceed to pump water out using a large lever, which brings up a small stream of water that goes into one of the waiting plastic containers. The stream is maybe an inch or so in diameter, so you can imagine just how long it takes to pump all the water a family of six needs for three or four days (hint: it’s a while. I’m not sure exactly how long because I have yet to pump. Which is probably a good thing, because my host sister is ripped and I am…not). Then, my siblings cart the big plastic jugs back to our house in the wheel barrow, where they are stored in the kitchen and in the hallway.
How much water does a person need, when every drop is worked for? The answer, I think, is surprisingly little. In the States, I wasn’t even aware of how much water I consumed daily. Things like washing machines and flush toilets make it easy to be unaware of how much water you are using on a daily basis competing basic tasks. But here, I know how much water I need each day, more or less. My first use of water is generally my bucket bath. Here’s a breakdown of water usage for me on a given day.
- One balde or bucket of water for a bath
- Sometimes I help with dishes in the mornings, which we use maybe 3 pitchers for
- 2-4 liters of drinking water daily. This water is boiled, cooled, and then filtered to avoid parasites/bacteria/water-borne illnesses.
- Approximately 1 cup’s worth of water for coffee each day.
- For lunch, we use different amounts of water, depending on what we are cooking, but my guess would be that we use maybe 5 liters of water on cooking one meal.
- I wash my hands about 5-6 times per day here, usually with about one cup of water
…And that’s it. Now, there are also less frequent water needs that I have, like mopping my room and doing laundry which both happen once a week, but in general, I survive on very little water. But even still, it’s comparatively a small amount of water. Washing machines use on average 14 to 25 gallons of water per load, and that’s with HIGH efficiency machines. Here, I maybe use five gallons for clothes washing. I use no water when brushing my teeth except a sip after finishing to rinse my mouth. We have a latrine, so there are no toilet flushes. We have no lawn to water, only a yard of fine red dust. Our water usage is incredibly efficent, and yet we still are being extra careful to not waste a single drop.
I’ll admit that when I was home in the couple weeks before I came to Mozambique, I didn’t give a flying hoot about water conservation when it came to showers. I knew I’d be living with bucket baths for the forseeable future, and I wanted to cherish the few “real” showers I had left. So despite the drought, I relished my daily 15-minutes in the shower. I think one huge difference about drought here and drought in California is that in California, you can ignore it. You can continue living life as you always have, flushing the toilet after every use and spending an inordinate amount of time in the shower, and leave the worrying about drought to other people. But here, that’s not an option. When you pump and cart every drop of water you consume, it changes things. When you have to wait hours just to get the water you need for the next three days because the wells are over-stressed, it changes things. When millions of people are going hungry in your country because of the drought, it changes things.
Here’s to hoping that the drought ends soon. We miss the rains down in Mozambique. But regardless, I know that I personally will never see water the same way again after living in a drought-affected country in a place where you are keenly aware of every drop of water that you use.