From Sunday 22nd January until Saturday 28th January, I will be undertaking a Water Challenge. I will try to survive, for one week, on 10 litres of water each day. In the UK we use, on average, 200 litres of water per day – and because of the long showers I like to take I probably use a lot more. 10 litres is the amount on which many of those living in water poverty must survive on a daily basis. [The World Health Organisation recommends access to at least 20 litres of water per day that is from a safe source (in other words, protected from outside contamination) within 1km distance of your home.]
What began as a light-hearted suggestion to kick-start our ‘Thirst for Change’ campaign in Hallam will soon be turning into a week of a very different reality for me.
When I was deciding how I would go about this challenge I thought at first that trying to live on 10 litres of water each day would be challenging enough. I will be using it to drink, cook my food, wash myself, wash my clothes and for sanitation, and will have to conserve and reuse water wherever possible to try and make it last. And if I were living in Zambia, for example, I might be using 10 litres of water from perhaps a stream or river, or an open water hole shared with animals. So the water would contain dirt and toxins and germs that could make me ill, possibly fatally. This alone would be enough to contend with and is done out of necessity. But no one would choose to use and drink water like that if they had a choice, so for my challenge I will obviously be using clean, safe water.
So, as I began to think about it, I realised that, for me, doing this challenge without walking to fetch my water doesn’t make any sense and misses out a large part of the experience. Here in the UK I can easily turn on a tap to fill my plastic bottles into which I will measure out my 10 litres of water for the day. Sure, I will have to think about how I use the water during the day – learn to wash the dishes more efficiently, perhaps make a choice between cleaning myself or my clothes, maybe go without a cup of tea myself in order to offer one to a friend who drops in – but for a week this change of lifestyle will probably be quite bearable.
To have to collect all the water that I will use, however, adds another very important dimension, I feel. Women and girls – and culturally it is the females of most communities who are expected to undertake the task – spend hours each day fetching the water they need back to their homes, from whichever water source happens to be the closest, which could still be two hours walk away. And this is what the challenge, and CAFOD’s campaigning and fundraising over the next four months, is all about. Not only do those in the South face the reality of having to use water which they know full well may make them ill, but the amount of time it takes to collect this water impacts life greatly; and it is the ripple effects of this reality which I want to face during my challenge.
For me, the time spent walking to fetch water will probably mean losing a little sleep as I get up earlier in order to allow time for my journey to and from my friend’s house 1km away where I will be collecting my water. The reality for many is hours of lost sleep as they walk for much further than this or spend hours queuing whenever the government sees fit to pump water to the village tap.
For me, a single person with no family to be responsible for, I expect that I will be able to carry my 10 litres back to my house in one journey. The reality for many is several trips each day in order to collect enough water to provide for their whole family.
For me, I may get a bit of shoulder ache as they pull against the weight of the water in my rucksack during the journeys. The reality for many is long-term spinal damage, and neck and back pain which prevent comfortable sleep, as a result of carrying huge weights of water on their heads and backs.
So in many ways the challenge that I am undertaking is merely a token, a gesture, which will not even come close to the realities endured by millions of our sisters and brothers. But my hope is that, in some small way, I will get a glimpse of the real challenges which they endure. And I am sure that by restricting myself to using only water which I must fetch I will appreciate much more the value of the water which I have collected, and will cause me to use it more wisely than if I allowed myself to simply turn on my own tap to refill my bottles.
My aim during the week is to live my life as normally as possible: to continue to work and socialise as I would during a normal week. And I imagine that, even with my restricted water allowance and time taken up collecting water, I will more or less manage it. But in doing this I will remember the women and girls for whom life revolves constantly around collecting sufficient water for their family’s needs. Their ability to work, be educated, and to socialise is so often dictated by the time they have remaining once this chore is complete.
So it is my prayer that through this challenge I may gain new understanding and compassion for the struggles of those who live in water poverty, and a new thankfulness for the ease with which clean, safe water is part of my life. And I pray that my Thirst for Change will become a reality.
About the author: From Sunday 22nd – Saturday 28th January Rachel Wood will be trying to live on 10 litres of water each day, which she will walk 1km to collect, in order to experience a little of what life is like for those who live in water poverty. Are you thirsting for change? Go to http://www.cafod.org.uk/thirst to see how you can take the water challenge or get involved with the campaign.