Friday, October 24, 2008

Precious Abundant Water

It's the rainy season in Tamale, Ghana, which means that every few days we have a huge downpour, usually accompanied by lightening. The rain is nothing like Vancouver. It's more like a Hollywood studio when the sky flashes continuously in rhythm with the thunder claps and rain pounding over our tin roof. It can last anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. Last Friday, the storm came right after school and lasted for about an hour, so most teachers (including me) were stuck in our classrooms waiting the rain out. Some of us took naps on the tables. When the rain finally stopped, we were free to go home, dodging huge puddles and avoiding the splash from cars and motorbikes. Most roads are dirt roads with either no or poor drainage, so some who walk have to take off their sandles and tread through the water. Bikes and motorbikes have to be equally careful on the slippery mud roads. Luckily for us, we get a ride home in the pastor's truck.

In spite of this apparant abundance of precipitation and Ghana's management of the world's largest man-made fresh water lake called Lake Volta, most homes (poor and rich alike) experience water shortages. Since arriving in Ghana, we’ve probably only enjoyed a handful of days with water served to our home through the city pipes, then into our tap. It’s a common occurance here, so most wealthier locals know to store their water in 250 gallon drums whenever the water is available. Tamale's water company has just one working pump, and one spare pump that has broken down years ago. The spare pump is too expensive to fix, so if there are any problems with the single working pump, water is cut off to the city. Another company was claimed that they have found a solution to the water shortage. They announced that they would solve all water shortages by August. August and September came and went, and we're nearly ending October still with water shortages.

At the guest house where we and the pastor live, we have 4 drums. Two of the drums are elevated, feeding water into the house's pipes via gravity. The third tank is elevated just high enough to put a bucket under its faucet so we can fetch water. The fourth is a tank from which we fetch with buckets.

The effect is that we have learned to conserve water tremendously. BC Hydro would be proud of us. Between taking showers, cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes, and flushing the toilet, we found that flushing the toilet uses the most most water. Every flush requires a full bucket of water, which we have to fetch from the drum outside, then manually pour into the back of the toilet. To conserve water, our toilet is usually only flushed twice a day (when someone goes #2). A phrase we learned from Caleb, "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down", is taken very literally here. We've learned to take bucket showers, which surprisingly uses very little water! A shower usually uses 1/4 a bucket of water, and almost 1/2 if I wash my hair. Washing dishes requires multiple rinses in a very small tub, but only uses about 1/2 bucket of water.
Water usage may be a little inconvenient for us, but it is hardship and even life-threatening for most of the population. On the way to school and on Saturday mornings, we've seen huge groups of women and children washing their clothes by broken water pipes, and walking long distances with tubs of water balanced on their heads. As the fresh water from the broken pipes run out, the only source of water is from dams of stagnant water. The transmition of cholera is not uncommon during these times.

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