I never knew how long a day could be until I had kids. Early in the day I’m always so optimistic about the things I’ll get done once the girls are in bed: send some emails, mend my shirt, do a workout video. Maybe I’ll even start my 2-year old’s “first year” photo book. Ah yes, I have such good intentions until reality hits at about 5 pm. The 5-year old starts acting like she’s 2, the 2-year old strips down naked and runs around like a wild boar, and I realize dinner will be about an hour late. It’s all downhill from there. By the time my kids are asleep all I want to do is join them. That photo book is not happening. Again. But I’ve still got to do the dishes, laundry, and generally restore the house to a place that doesn’t resemble the path of a tornado. It seems like a lot to do at the end of a long day. But really, I’ve got it easy. Actually, I’ve got it easier than 663 million people. Let me explain.
It takes me about 15 minutes to do the dishes most nights: Load dishes, add detergent, push a button. Check. It takes even less time to do the laundry: Load clothes, add detergent, push a button. Check. By this point I’m normally feeling quite productive and decide not to bother cleaning the rest of the house. It will just look like this again tomorrow night, right? Instead I cozy up on the couch and stream some mindless show. I’ve got time. After all, what takes some people over 6 hours each day to do, I just did in under 30 minutes. The clean water that is piped to my house saved me the time I would have spent collecting water, the dishwasher and the laundry machine are doing all the work for me, and the dirty water from all this washing is going to be carried away by another set of pipes and cleaned at a wastewater treatment plant. All I’ve got to do is push a couple of buttons.
But 1 in 10 people in the world can’t sit on the couch because they don’t have access to the water and plumbing that would allow them to enjoy modern appliances. Forget about the couch. Women and girls trade time working and time at school to collect water. Believe it or not, 1 in 3 people don’t even have access to a toilet. That means more people have a cell phone than a toilet. When people lack clean water and sanitation, they have no system that reliably brings clean water to their home or takes the dirty water away, and that changes everything. Could you imagine a day without water? Without safe, reliable water and wastewater service? Most Americans take water, and the systems that bring it to and from homes and businesses, for granted. We turn on the tap, and safe drinking water reliably comes out. We flush the toilet, and we don’t have to think twice about how that wastewater will be taken away and safely treated before it is returned to the environment.
If you can’t imagine what that would be like, take a look at my friend Pete’s photos. Pete is a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Rwanda working with Les Compagnons Fontainiers du Rwanda (COFORWA), an organization focusing primarily on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) projects. The photos on the left are water and wastewater infrastructure improvements in a rural community. The first is a single family rainwater collection tank, the second a toilet, and the third a hand washing station. And yes, you read that correctly, these are infrastructure IMPROVEMENTS. Before these were installed, families had to fetch water multiple times a day in a jerrycan. Materials to treat water, like chlorine, are typically inaccessible or too expensive, so water from this rainwater tank is either used as is or boiled before drinking to prevent illness. It makes my evening routine look like a vacation in paradise.
Our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, while drought, flooding, and climate change all place extra pressure on our systems. As our pipes age and our communities grow, we need water and sewer systems that are capable of meeting our needs now and well into the future. The investments we make today to repair and upgrade our systems protect them so that future generations will not have to imagine a day without life-sustaining water.
On September 15, we join together with communities across the country to raise awareness and education for Imagine a Day Without Water. What better time to learn about water issues from a global down to a local level?
- Check out Pete’s blog to follow his work in Rwanda, and make sure to read about his own experience without running water for 5 days.
- Watch the Imagine a Day Without Water video to find out more about the water crisis facing America. You can also take action by signing the petition.
- Watch HRSD’s SWIFT video to find out what HRSD is doing to ensure a sustainable source of groundwater for everyone in Hampton Roads and take a Virtual Tour of a local wastewater infrastructure improvement project happening now.
- Find out more about aging infrastructure in Hampton Roads and what you can do to help.
I appreciate what I have the most when I am sitting on my couch listening to my appliances do the work, but access to clean water and sanitation is more than just a convenience. It means more kids in school, fewer people getting sick, and for too many it can be the difference between life and death. We can do better. Water is essential, invaluable, and worthy of investment. So take a moment to give thanks, hug your toilet, and encourage others to value water. As they say, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.