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February 12, 2012

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.

— Benjamin Franklin

Water.  It represents up two-thirds of our body weight.  Our brains are made up of 95% water.  It accounts for 82% of our blood.  Our lungs are 90% water.  Water lubricates our joints and hydrates our body organs.  It forms the basis for saliva that begins the process of digestion.  It is vital to regulating our body temperature.  It regulates metabolism and detoxifies our bodies.  It gives life.

Even minor dehydration can affect the memory, interfere with reasoning, blur the vision and cause daytime fatigue.  Chronic under-hydration increases the risk of many ailments.

In addition, water is important for sanitation.  We cleanse our bodies with it.  We wash our dishes and our clothes with it.  We cook with it.  We use it to grow our food.

The average per capita water consumption per day in Canada is more than 700 liters.  If one includes industrial usage that figure approaches 5000 liters per day.  The average Haitian uses 15 liters per day.


Living on the ocean it is difficult to get my head around the idea of not having water.  But that has been the case for more than a week now.  For reasons I have not been able to determine with certainty, the water supply for the entire area where I live has shut down.  Everyone seems to agree the problem is high in the mountains, at or near our water source.  But no one seems to know what the problem is exactly.

Our water system is simple.  A spring in the mountains was capped and the water is piped down to where we live.  Coming from high up, the water is under pressure.  Most of the time this system works very well.  But much of the pipe is on the surface and is therefore very vulnerable to damage.  It is plastic, not of the best quality, and the sun degrades it making it brittle, making it even more subject to damage.  But if the problem were a broken line as some say, I can think of no reason it couldn’t be repaired in hours.

The lack of water has changed the character of our community.  I have water to my home, but most do not.  They carry their water in 5 gallon buckets and jugs from one of the many standpipes in the community.  Or they come to my yard.  These water sources (my yard included) tend to be gathering places for people filling their water containers, bathing, doing laundry or just engaging in animated discussions.  Now these spots are deserted.

For me it is an inconvenience.  I pay a young man a bit to have him bring me water from a few miles away or prevail upon the resort next door to draw water from their well.  I have to get along with far less than I am accustomed to use.  I use my grey water to flush my toilet.  I cut down on how much water I use for doing dishes.  Showers have been replaced with sponge baths.  Living on the beach, if I am really dirty I can go for a swim beforehand to take off the worst of the dirt.  Laundry is out of the question; if the situation continues I will pay someone in an area that has water to do my wash.

For many others in my community the situation is much more serious.  The amount I pay to have water hauled is of little consequence to me.  But in the economies of many who live around me any extra expense is a serious matter.  Some will do without something so they can bring water in a tap tap.  Some, most often women and children, will carry their buckets for miles. But some are resorting to getting water from very questionable sources.  I have seen people dipping water from the ditches, open sewers really, filled with garbage and frequented by dogs, goats, pigs and chickens to say nothing of those who use them as a toilet.  For these people the lack of a water supply is a serious threat to their health.  Eighty percent of Haiti’s diseases are associated with water.

When I was living in Canada I took water for granted.  In Haiti I have have come to realize it truly is a gift from God.

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