A place where running water is still a luxury
Living in America, we take the running water for granted. Did you ever realize that, running water is still a luxury in many parts of this world, even in the 21st century?
According to a report by the World Health Organization in 2017, there are 2.1 billion people (close to 30% of world population) who lack safe drinking water at home. And there are 4.5 billion people who lack safe sanitation.
And one of those places is the village where I grew up. It’s located in the northern part of China.
How do they get water?
For most of the families over there, there is one well drilled at each yard, which is owned by one household. A hand pump is installed. By pushing and pulling the lever, the water is pumped out to the side.
My parents have been using this well and hand pump for over 30 years.
When I grew up, it was much worse. There was no well in our old yard. A common well was located on the street, and was shared by over 10 families. There was no pump. It was just a big and deep round-shape water hole, with the diameter of 4 to 5 feet.
A long pike pole was used to haul the big bucket of water out of the well. During the winter, the surrounding areas of the well were so icy and slippery. It was very scary to get the water.
As a young kid, I was told: always stay away from the well. The well was not covered, and anyone could get close to it as there was no barrier. It was really a safety hazard for young kids.
Now looking back, I just wonder how we kept the water clean, as there was no well cover. Probably, water cleanness was not a priority then.
That could be one of the reasons I got a healthy start, as I accessed a lot of unclean water and bacteria. The body resistance was built early on.
The current hand-pump is not too bad. At least, the well is covered. But, the outdoor pit toilet is at the yard, too. And the yard is small. How to prevent the toilet stuff from sinking and penetrating to the water in the well? The answer is: no way.
You can imagine that, it’s not pretty.
When living there, I never thought about this question. Only after I left and had access to running water, I started to feel uncomfortable every time going back.
Is it getting better now?
Several years ago, the local government completed a big project in that village. The small water pipes were laid underground, and every household got a faucet at the yard.
Where does the water come from? A much bigger and deeper well was drilled outside the village. A powerful electric pump was used to distribute the water.
But, the water quality is still not guaranteed, as the water is not being processed or inspected.
Plus, the power outage is very common. It happens once every couple of days, and each time lasts 6-8 hours. I doubt the pump has generator hooked up.
In 2015 when I went back, my parents were so happy to see the water coming from the faucet. But the water supply was not 24 hours a day. It was only available for a couple of hours during the meal cooking time. I had to laugh about the schedule. Wow, need water? You have to check the clock first.
As a result, my parents kept using the yard well as a backup.
A much worse place than my village:
Some of my relatives live in a village at the foot of bare mountains. It’s about 13 miles from my village. That place is even worse.
It’s a very dry place. In some summers, it didn’t rain for months, and the wells dried up. They had to walk with their donkeys for several miles to get water. Most of the crops died. Their lives are merely at the mercy of Mother Nature.
They treat water so preciously. When washing hands, they use a water basin. The same puddle of water is used over and over again by several people.
My time in Beijing:
I went to a college in Beijing in early 1980s. The living condition in Beijing was much better. But, we still had water problem in the summer once a while.
The college dorm I lived was a 5-story building. All the girls were living at the top floor. There were rooms at the two ends of the hallway to supply the running water. Most of the time, water was running fine.
But in the hot summer, the water pressure was not enough. The water on our floor could stop for hours during the day. It was not fun when the temperature was in the 90s (mid 30s in Celsius), and no water. We had to use the bucket, went to the lower levels where the boys lived, and got water from there.
The water supply room was next to the toilet room, and there was no door in between. It was embarrassing for girls to go there. But, there were two options: we either got stinky with no water, or got embarrassed by getting water. We chose the latter.
My final thought:
Having lived in US for many years, I feel blessed in many ways. Having access to clean running water 24 by 7 is one of them.
Early this year, one of my bathroom sinks was kind of clogged. The water was still flowing down, but was super slow. Each time, when washing my hands, suddenly I realized I had used probably half a gallon of water.
It was a guilty feeling to me. The same amount of water could be used by many people in the world to cook a meal.
If you want to know more about China, please check my eBook, a mini-memoir on Amazon: “DAD’S BICYCLE: Journey of A Chinese Family”.
Do you feel blessed when using the running water? Did you ever live a time when water was in shortage?