Today, October 2nd, is National Water Day here in Honduras. Our school principal encouraged the science teachers to decorate and raise awareness, and it came at an opportune time in our 10th grade curriculum when we had a couple of lessons on the properties of water and its biological importance. Unfortunately, at the staff meeting, I thought our principal said "International Water Day" instead of National Water Day, so the 10th graders did a lovely job decorating their classroom door with some slightly incorrect information. Oops!
Perhaps Honduras doesn´t celebrate World Water Day (March 22nd) with everyone else because it usually falls in what Hondurans consider to be their "summer" (March-April) during the hottest and driest months in the country. The irony of celebrating water during national drought is not lost on many local journalists...
However, all this talk about water has caused me to reflect on the ways in which water is used and delivered here in Honduras as opposed to in the States. I feel like I save more water here in Honduras but it is not necessarily of my own volition. Let´s compare the houses in the States with some of the living situations I have encountered here in Honduras. Where I lived previously in the States, houses have hot water tanks, 99-100% reliable water delivery (unless they are repairing a pipe in the street), and drinkable--even tasty--tap water. Washing machines are included in any house/rental, as hand-washing clothes is truly a thing of the past. You are only considered to be at a disadvantage if your house doesn´t come with a clothes dryer.
When I first lived in the teacher housing that my school provides, I had an electric shower head for "hot" water, a cistern backup storage tank, and an electric pump to provide the house with water. Although it is a common practice to dump a little household bleach in the cistern to keep it mildly sanitary, it is still not exactly potable, so everyone must buy large 5-gallon drums of purified water to drink. We also had a (sigh! the luxury!) washing machine. In June 2010, I moved into a tiny apartment closer to my husband´s (then-fiancee´s) family´s house. There was no washing machine, no hot water, but at least there was a cistern and pump. This weekend, I moved into a larger house where there is a set-up for hot water shower heads (but we haven´t bought them yet), no washing machine, and as far as we can tell, no cistern/pump. That means we have to rely on city water which only is available for about half the day every day until we figure something out. Because of the unreliability of the delivery of city water, every house in Honduras has a pila, or basically a big wash basin with a built-in washboard that you can fill and use for washing clothes, dishes, or anything else (like hauling buckets of water over to the bathroom to flush the toilet). However, if your pila is empty and the water goes out, you are basically screwed. Most city-water houses also keep a large barrel of water in the bathroom for "bucket baths" and for flushing the toilet without having to go out to the pila.
Since I have gotten used to cold or lukewarm showers in Honduras, I have definitely saved not only water, but also energy. In the States, I was the kind of person who would turn the water up as hot as it could go, and just stand under it for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth before I would start washing my hair, etc. Here, I have become accustomed to taking "sailor showers," or turning on the water just to get myself wet, then turning it off to shampoo, scrub up, then turning it on once again to rinse. Almost no one has hot water tanks in Honduras because of the expense to buy one, the expense to operate one, and the fact that the coldest water here is nowhere near as cold as it is in the States in winter. Electric shower heads are the cheap and space-saving solution, although they break easily and either don´t warm the water up very much or they give you fun (mild!) electric shocks... hence the nickname, "suicide showers." Without hot water to strip away your skin´s oils and in a hot climate where you sweat a lot, your face always feels a little greasy... just another thing you get used to.
I still enjoy looking at sustainability and "ecological footprint" websites and I like raising awareness when I teach about human impact on the environment, but those websites are geared towards usage in the States. The fact that water is not reliably delivered by local governments forces Hondurans to save water, plan ahead, and use it wisely or do without. The fact that there is no real winter and no need to heat anything means that water and energy use in the tropics is much less than in the States. What I described in this blog entry is my experience living in a Honduran mid-sized city. As you can imagine, in rural areas of Honduras, people rely on wells and creeks, or have to haul buckets of water long distances to be able to use it at home. Life is just that much harder for them because of it. There are many charities focused on bringing water to people around the world so that they can spend some of their time and energy on something besides just basic survival. If you are at all interested in development work or in making a difference in the lives of people around the world, please consider donating to a water project.
http://www.hydraid.org/act/donate.html <-- has affordable water filter projects in Honduras
If you know of any other great water charities that people should know about, please leave them in the comments section!
No matter where we live, fresh drinking water is a precious resource and should be conserved. I encourage everyone to think of ways you can be less wasteful with water today, Honduran National Water Day, and again on the real World Water Day on March 22nd. Thanks for reading!