27 March 2014

love that dirty water.

How much do you think about water?

Although World Water Day was this past Saturday, March 22, we have water on the brain over here in Tanzania. To be honest, I didn't think much about our access to water in the United States. Why? Because, as you know, in developed nations, clean water is everywhere. It comes from your tap. It comes from your shower head. Heck, in the United States, it's even in your toilet!

Here? Not so much. Michael and I have been reflecting lately on the fact that all of the water we currently use comes from a lake. Not a clean lake, by any means. Just a lake. And by having (dirty) water come to our sink tap, we are living the Tanzanian life of luxury. How dirty is it, you may ask? Well, it has bilharzia, for starters. What's bilharzia?

view of lake victoria just down the road from our language school.

Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis (say that five times fast), is caused by parasitic worms that happen to live in Lake Victoria. They're just hanging out in the water, waiting for you to swim, bathe, wash your clothes, or take a drink to jump into your body and cause any number of icky symptoms, which I will be kind enough not to list here. Not to scare our moms or anything, but bilharzia is serious business. It's estimated to cause up to 200,000 deaths per year. (This supports the fact that 80% of diseases in developing countries are associated with dirty water.)

The good news is that the bilharzia worms are killed by simply boiling your water. Hooray! Yippee skippee! Yet even after being boiled, the water is still dirty. So, we filter it to remove any remaining particles and we treat it with chlorine to kill any bacteria not killed by boiling.

our handy filtration canteens.

"Well, it is a decent amount of work to get clean water," you're thinking. "But not that bad."

Au contraire! Remember how I said that we are living the Tanzanian life of luxury with our access to dirty water? Most Tanzanians cannot afford to have running water in their homes. At the most, poor homes may have electricity but it is quite rare to see running water. In addition, since Tanzanians cook outdoors over charcoal, many cannot afford to boil their water. Instead, they are forced to take their chances on the water they can find. For those living on Lake Victoria, the lake water is all they have for drinking, bathing, and washing.

the massive water tank here at our language school.

The statistics regarding world water use are staggering. Just two years ago, the United Nations reports that 768 million people did not use an improved source for drinking water. Even worse, 2.5 billion people did not have access to improved sanitation facilities. This is not cool, people.

Unfortunately, us Americans use a ton of water each year, more than our fair share. We only follow India and China in our use of water annually. But what really matters is the fact that we have the highest rate of water usage per capita. Yowzas. Let's share the wealth!

"But how? How can I help?" you're asking because you're an awesome person.

Because more and more people are becoming aware of water usage needs worldwide, there are so many fantastic resources online that help you brainstorm ways to cut down on your water use. Here are five easy tips we found that you can start today:

1. Use a reusable water bottle or glass around the house, instead of using multiple glasses. Bonus: Less dishes to be washed. Need I say more?

these are the water bottles michael and i take everywhere.

2. Keep a water pitcher in your fridge instead of letting the tap water run down the drain while waiting for it to cool.

3. For those lucky enough to use running water straight from your tap, turn off the water while brushing your teeth! You could save up to four gallons every time you clean those pearly whites.

how we brush our teeth in tanzania: using previously boiled fresh water stored in a whisky bottle.

4. For those lucky enough to have dishwashers, run them when they're full! Statistics show that dishwashers actually use less water than when we wash by hand. For those of us (here in Tanzania) forced to wash by hand, make sure to fill the sink first instead of letting the water run.

5. For those lucky enough to have washing machines (Am I sensing a theme here?), match the size of your load to the level of water. And by washing dark clothes in cold water, you save water and energy.

Easy, right?

We thank you and so does Captain Planet! (Shout out to the '90's!) Who knows? If we all work together on this, maybe we'll have clean water in Tanzania someday. I think we can all agree to that.

Note: Not to overshadow this very important topic, but I also feel compelled to mention that over the last four days, Michael and I have been without electricity for at least half of that time. So yeah, electricity may be an upcoming blogpost. If my computer battery doesn't die before then.

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