16 Liters

Reedview, North West Province. South Africa
2. March 2012.

Reedview’s taps have stood dry for nearly a month now. No one seems to know what the problem is; a shortage of water is simply the way of things here. Here in the village we complain about the water like we complain about the heat or political corruption: just another common hardship, beyond our control, that we suffer through together. One more thing to empathize with each other about.

Though water taps supplied by the Madibeng municipality can be found in many of Reedview’s yards, these taps typically run dry, providing water just once per week. When the taps do flow, people drag out all manner of containers to store water: drums, buckets, pails, jugs, cans, and barrels that once held atchaar, African beer, vegetable oil, or even concrete mix. The gutters of my house direct water to an old petroleum drum, which collects water for the yard and for cleaning.

Some relief came on Monday in the form of an ancient truck, a water tank bolted to its flatbed. Presumably it came from the municipality. Community members flocked to the truck, carting their water containers on wheelbarrows and laying out a colorful queue of vessels in the dirt road.

Groundwater here runs deep – on the order of 70 meters – making wells quite expensive. Only a handful of families in Reedview have them. When the taps don’t run and the water truck doesn’t come, they run a thriving business: one Rand (approximately $.14) to fill a small drum, two Rand to fill a large drum.

My patterns of water consumption have certainly shifted to fit my new circumstances. Here my daily use comes to about 16 liters, or about four gallons (all figures approximate): two liters for cooking; four liters for drinking; four liters for washing dishes; and six liters for bathing. For laundry, I use another 60 liters or so each week. In the United States, by contrast, the water I would have used each morning to shower, use the toilet, cook, brush my teeth, etc. typically would have exceeded 100 liters by the time I left my apartment for work.

Despite my conservative use, my water supply has slowly dwindled. Two days have passed since I have bathed or washed my dishes thoroughly. Fortunately, the contractors working to pave the road severed the water main a couple of blocks from my house today. The small geyser only adds to the mystery: if the taps are dry, then why is water gushing from the main? No matter: I need water, so I load my drum onto the wheelbarrow and join my neighbors in redirecting this water for personal use.

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5 responses to “16 Liters

  1. The photos are amazing. How could people have smiles on their faces in light of the absence of such as basic human need as water. Mom

  2. Does anyone pay for water from the tap, or does the government or some other probably regulated entity provide the intermittent supply at no charge? If provided at no charge, it seems like the problem here is that the supplier has a disincentive to actually supply water.

    • I’ll preface my response with this excerpt from the WSJ: “Free water is a recipe for third grade service delivery”: http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/04/09/does-india-manage-its-water-like-a-banana-republic/

      I spoke with the community councillor about this matter. Apparently, all households are entitled to 6,000 liters of water monthly (which seems an incredible number to me). After that, you pay for water. No one in the village pays for water. Predictably, water delivery is unpredictable. The councillor. However, they are moving to having people pay for water (meters have been installed, but who knows when they’ll be up and running).

    • I spoke with the community councillor about this very issue. Apparently, each family is entitled (yes, entitled) to a certain amount of water monthly; once that amount has been used, water consumption should be billed. However, though meters have been installed across much of the village, residents are still not being billed for water. Hence the poor service delivery.

      See: blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/04/09/does-india-manage-its-water-like-a-banana-republic/

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