The first act of the day for many of us is to drink some fresh, clean water, whether from the glass on your bedside table or from the bathroom tap. It doesn’t matter how much you drink, you can quench your thirst and there is plenty more in the tap. Is there a natural resource we take more for granted than water?
Here in the United States, we each get through a massive 80-100 gallons of water per day on average. If we had to fetch and carry this water, we would all treasure it a lot more. One hundred gallons of water weighs more than 800 pounds. World Water Day on March 22 is a reminder for those of us who just have to reach and drink with barely a thought that this is not the case for more than 800 million people around the world.
Experience a taste of what it is like to live without clean water and you’ll never take it for granted again. The parish of St. Jean Baptiste, Sassier, is a collection of villages nestled in the mountains of southwestern Haiti. The people enjoyed a clean water system until 2008 when the system of plastic piping connecting a mountain spring to a series of standpipes, badly planned, fragile and without any maintenance, snapped in several places in the storms of 2008.
Visiting Sassier last fall, villagers took me down to the spring, the only clean water supply in the parish. From the dirt road we trekked down a mountain path for 30 minutes before coming to the springhead. We had left at first light to avoid a mountain hike during the heat of the day. Already the spring was a busy spot: a woman doing her laundry, a small girl beating clothes with a wooden paddle, and many more coming to collect water. I was shown the broken pipes and then it was a grueling hike straight back up the steep valleyside to the dirt road. It was a long and exhausting trek for a healthy, active adult male with no more than a camera and a water bottle. I hated to think what it would be like when carrying gallons of heavy water, and most of the hauling in situations like this is done by mothers and their children.
From the villages that make up Sassier, a trek to the spring can take many hours. There are closer water sources, but they are not as clean as the spring. Water-related illnesses kill a child every 20 seconds in the developing world, and there is a real fear of cholera in Sassier.
“Water is life,” says Madame Jean Charles Guerlaine. She is a mother of eight who lives in the village of Piram in Sassier. “I need good water to bring to my children. I need good water so that they don’t get cholera or other diseases from dirty water.”
Hope flows strong in Sassier though. The parish is partnered with the parish of Sacred Heart in Winnetka, Illinois, near Chicago, and together, with the support of Catholic Relief Services, they have started work on rebuilding the system. The mapping work by engineers began this March and the project recently received approval from the Haitian government’s water agency.
Deacon Gerry Keenan of Sacred Heart says: “The dream is starting to become a reality. We will focus on the human infrastructure that will enable the community to provide governance, and to operate and maintain their system.”
“It is not acceptable that people need to walk several hours to get drinking water. Let this be the time for positive change,” says Fr. Jean Edner Mars, the pastor at Sassier. “Together now, we will make sure the new water system is durable and sustainable and will serve this community and its children for many years to come.”
That is a goal that I will certainly drink to. I hope you wi’ll join me next time you reach for a glass of cold, clean, life-giving water.
Tom Price writes for CRS.org