When There is No Water: The Stress of Uncertainty

A faucet in the outdoor sink drips water on a sunny day.
The constant drip of the faucet when the water pressure is too low can drive a JV insane. 

Over 20 years ago my neighborhood, Habitat, was constructed by Habitat for Humanity. When it was built, this neighborhood was the last frontier of the city of Tacna. Beyond Habitat were farms, dirt, and somewhere out there, the Peruvian-Chilean border. 

Today, Habitat stands strong as its own community and is no longer the last neighborhood as others have sprung up throughout the years, creeping further out into the desert. But even as Habitat has developed, there remains one point of contention in the neighborhood that has yet to be solved: water. 

During summer, water cuts are normal throughout the city. We know that in our house we won’t even get a trickle from our faucets past 11 am. We’re used to the rhythm of waking up early and filling as many buckets as we can so that we have water for the rest of our day. But it’s winter now, turning into spring, and already we struggle with water. Just in two weeks we went five days with barely a trickle coming out of our faucets. Not enough to shower or wash dishes and barely enough to fill our pots to boil drinking water.

A blue 55 gallon water barrel sits out on the back patio between a checkered, green hammock and an old, worn wooden chair.
These blue barrels are our lifeline when the water goes out.

I remember having a conversation with one of the Jesuit priests that we work with about our water issues. He had spent time in Liberia working with Jesuit Refugee Services. Where he lived there was no running water whatsoever. He was used to having barrels of water delivered for all of his needs. Knowing of his experience, it surprised me when he pointed out  that a set-up like ours was, in some ways, more stressful. At least he knew there was never running water when he was in Liberia. He never turned the faucet in the morning and felt let down. For us in Habitat, it often feels like a random act of fate whether we’ll have water to boil or to clean our dishes with. We have to live between the push and pull of two water systems: the large barrels in our back patio that serve as dish-washing, clothes-washing and showering water, and the faucets that should run but so often don’t. 

For so much of my time here, I’ve acknowledged that we are privileged for having running water. There are so many families living outside of the city’s limits, at the top of the dunes, that rarely receive or are able to get water to their homes. Knowing these difficult realities that people around us face, I thought I had no right to be stressed about the condition of our water. The conversation with the Jesuit priest made me reflect a little further.

A small blue tub with water in it sits next to the indoor sink, an old plastic mug floating on the water's surface.
Laundry buckets and mugs become our best washing method in the summer.

Last month, I covered the topic of food insecurity in the social justice class I teach at school. We discussed that it’s not always an absence of food that can signify insecurity but the fact that someone does not know where their next meal is coming from or when. It’s a game of cat-and-mouse that gets into your head. The first thought in the morning is food and that thought stays at the back of your mind all day, a constant drumbeat that influences your daily life.

I believe that the experience of water insecurity is not too far off from food insecurity. Often, my first thought in the morning is: will there be water? Can I cook? Can I wash my hands? As Jesuit volunteers we have the luxury of knowing that if our drinking water runs out, we have the funds to purchase bottled water from the store. But that’s not the case for so many neighbors. 

Is there a solution? For our house there is a practical one: install a water tank. But that does not solve the issue of instability nor does it acknowledge the needs of our neighbors. Tacna is located in the middle of desert land and the city continues to grow each day. More and more neighborhoods will need water. It’s a situation that will require innovation but most importantly, attention and discussion among the inhabitants of this region.

Originally published at www.jvcwithcamila.blogspot.com

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