This morning I woke up as I do every morning, blearily stumbling to the bathroom to take a shower before setting some tea on to boil and getting myself some cold water to wash down my bagel with peanut butter. It wasn’t until early afternoon that one of my friends put a notice up on Facebook about a water boil advisory in Orleans Parish and I was left hoping for the best given the amount of water I had already ingested. I also considered it rather interesting timing given my recent assignment to the Chiga Water Project in Kenya.
Water boil advisories aren’t unheard of down here, but as far as I know they are usually limited to during and immediately after hurricanes, so everyone was caught flat-footed, particularly me since I had never experienced a water boil advisory of any fashion before.
Living in a developed country you don’t often think about water, or maji in Swahili. I grew up in a state perpetually plagued with drought so water conservation was on my mind most summers, but really water conservation went as far as not watering your lawns as often during a drought and, if you were really good about it, choosing native vegetation so it didn’t require as much water. It did not mean worrying about whether the water was safe to drink or if there would be enough of it.
But for 780 million people in the world, they have to think about that every day. That’s more than two and a half times the total population of the United States.
I am definitely not used to thinking about water in terms of sanitation, nor had I considered the ramifications of not having safe water to drink. One by one restaurants and cafes started closing which always reduces the amount of traffic on some of the major streets. Parts of town that can be heinous to traverse were practically abandoned.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world. In Kenya water is a big concern, even leading to clashes between farmers and cattle herders, making the Chiga Water Project even more important.
As inconvenient as this boil advisory has been, I am grateful for the personal insight just as my project begins.