Water: handle with care

Watch for the Western Producer’s special water issue this week. Essential to life, water is increasingly becoming a critical commodity. Where it is plentiful and free, few think about that fact. For others life revolves around the need to get water.

Women wait their turn to draw from the murky waters of Lake Victoria, Kenya. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Women wait their turn to draw from the murky waters of Lake Victoria, Kenya. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Canadians use a lot of water. According to Environment Canada, in 2004 the average Canadian household used 329 litres of water a day, compared to the European average of 200 lts/day, and sub-Saharan Africa of 10-20 lts/day. Canadians seem to use more than their fair share!

Growing up on a pioneer farm in northern British Columbia, our household water came from a dugout. I learned early to appreciate enough good water. We only had cold running water as long as I lived at home (and I’m barely 50). You didn’t fill the bathtub more than necessary – and usually only once a week! We had sponge baths in between.

I lived in Europe long enough that even now, 18 years after leaving Switzerland, I’m sure our household is closer to the European average than the Canadian. I’ve been told I shower like a European – “What does that mean,” I asked perplexed.

“You turn the water on and off all the time.” Like most Europeans, I get wet, shut the water off, soap down, and rinse off. The only time I keep the water on the whole time I’m showering is if I am really cold, and even then I feel guilty.

Our Swiss relatives have their water metered coming into the house and again leaving the house. We know from Canadian statistics that cities that meter water have a substantially lower water usage per household than those that don’t. We value what we have to pay for.

Sometimes we were shocked at how water was wasted in Africa – not all Africans live with water shortages. On the compound where we lived, water lines were old and often in need of repair. If a tap was leaking, no one seemed bothered enough to fix it. As long as water comes, what’s the problem?

Village women and children clamour for water at a well near Mpongwe, Zambia. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Village women and children clamour for water at a well near Mpongwe, Zambia. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Other Africans know very well the value of good clean water. I’ve watched African women and kids haul water out of a dirty hole that the cows were standing in. My diary says: “I hope they are only using that to water the garden.” Now I know they most likely used it to wash and cook and some to drink without purifying.

What often amazed me about Africans is that they can come out of their simple one room huts with no facilities whatsoever and they are clean, their clothes neat and pressed. A little water can go a long way!

Clothes are washed by hand at the well or down by the creek or the watering hole. Bucket baths are the norm – water is heated and poured into a basin, the body is splashed with water, then soaped, and rinsed. ‘You may be poor but you don’t have to be dirty.’

As global population continues to grow, water will become a hot issue. We need to learn to value it, and treat it as the essential commodity it is – with care.

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