The blessing of water

Just as we were getting ready to leave for a weekend in late January, the main water hydrant used to water our cows froze solid. We have used the same hydrant for years and never before have we had a problem with this water source. We have had other hydrants freeze and have learned that there really is no easy way to melt the ice than to just wait for warmer weather. Since the frozen valve is more than six feet down, the thaw date will probably be sometime in June. The cows are now watered using an alternative, far less convenient, more labor intensive method involving a three-quarter inch hose which needs to be drained whenever the valve is shut off.

Over the years, we have had other water shortage incidents: a burned out motor on the pump, a leaking pressure tank, frozen water lines, flooded pump house. Nothing makes a person appreciate a water system that works more than one that doesn’t. Hauling water into your house to flush toilets, wash dishes, to drink and brush one’s teeth makes one value an electric pump and working pipes. Once our septic tank froze while we were gone and not using it. It took until mid-July for it to thaw out. As much work as it is to carry water into the house, carrying the dirty water out is even more distasteful.

It is easy to forget how fortunate we are to have a good, clean, abundant water when everything is working. Turn on the tap and there it is. It seems to have no limits. Most of the world does not share that experience. More than 780 million people around the world lack access to clean water. Each year 3.4 million people die due to water related illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and diarrhea. Even more people have no sewers or sanitary waste disposal.

Even in this country, our clean water is sometimes put in jeopardy. For the second time in less than a month, this week 100,000 gallons of coal slurry mill dumped into a creek in West Virginia. In California, drought is creating a crisis for vegetable growers dependent on irrigation and their neighbors in the cities next door. An oil drilling waste disposal site was placed directly above the water supply of the little town of Ross in western North Dakota. Water in that part of the state is always hard to find, much of it is barely useable for drinking, watering cattle or even doing laundry. Besides the cows, washing machines and people using water, now astronomical numbers of gallons are being used in drilling for oil. Accidental spills of oil and fracking water seem to be happening weekly. An already scarce resource–clean, drinkable water–is going to become even scarcer.

A year ago, my husband and I and several others took a week-long trip to Haiti, a country where forty percent of the people do not have access to clean water. Eighty percent of the population does not have access to a sanitary toilet. Eighty percent of the people live in poverty. There are few water treatment plants and often raw sewage runs in open canals. The rivers are used to water livestock, wash clothes, people, and cars. Women carry water miles up and down hills…on their heads. Water is often hauled in trucks and pumped into cisterns. Many better hotels and homes have cisterns on the roof to supply running water. This water might be useable, but still must be boiled for cooking, drinking or brushing your teeth.

In the village of Pasquette where we spent most of our time, the only cistern was owned by the Voodoo priest who sold it to his neighbors for an exorbitant price. Most of the villagers opted to walk more than a mile down the hill to a public water spigot and carry their water home in a five gallon bucket balanced on the top of their heads. For this community lack of water is a major barrier to making their lives better.

Almost a year later, things have changed.  Seeds of Support, the mission group we traveled with from Eden Prairie, MN, returned to Pasquette with a well driller. After more than a year of study and planning, an exploratory well was dug through the rock on the side of the hill below the village. They found water at 340 feet below the surface. A governing board of villagers has been developed to oversee the operation and maintenance of the well and the pump and use of the water. Seeds of Support will be helping the people of Pasquette plan for the future. Water has given our friends hope for the future.

This is only one small victory. This one well affects such a small community that it does not make a tiny dent in the world’s clean water statistics. So much more needs to be done.

Next time you let the shower run for 10 minutes, have a dripping faucet or a faulty valve in the toilet, say a prayer for others in the world carrying a five gallon pail of undrinkable water on their heads. Stop wasting water. Check out what you can do to help. Contact me about the work of Seeds of Support. Check what your own church is doing around the world. Check with Bread for the World how you can advocate for those in need of clean water here and around the world. Become aware of the blessing of clean water.

Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains