Thursday, September 12, 2013

Water Rationing

I have often discussed how Peace Corps Volunteers horde water because of the inevitability of a water outage - stock up while you can, use sparingly when you can't. Water is a perpetual issue. This is even more evident when the "rainy season" just doesn't produce enough rain. Why is this a problem, you ask? Aren't you happy to evade the torrential downpours, you question? I will answer you now.

Water dispersed around Botswana comes from the reservoirs and dams that fill up as a result of rain showers during the months of December through February. If they don't get rain, we don't have water. If there's no water, then the crops die, the animals suffer, and the people go without.

This assaults all facets of life. It goes a lot deeper than washing your clothes more sparingly or not having a bath. For example, people live off of personal gardens and farms in the lands. If the crops die then they go hungry. If the cattle have nothing to eat because the grass has dried up then they get skinny and eventually also die. Without them, there is no chance of additional income for the families. This often leads to an increase in desperation and a rise in crime. Everyone and everything suffers. Botswana has not escaped this trauma.

Botswana is in the midst of a very severe draught. Rainfall in last year's rainy season was exceptionally low. The current projections have the water reserves in the southern part of the country running dry in about two months. That is just before the rains are supposed to come again. If it is like last year, however, we could go months before we see water. This has unleashed a whole slew of problems and very few answers of what to do next. One thing they have instituted though is water rationing.

Water rationing is rolling shut-offs of water to certain areas. When I returned to Botswana from my home leave at the end of June, they had already started this. My area of Gaborone was without water on Saturdays. Inconvenient to have an outage over a weekend but I was grateful to know for a fact when the water would be out so I could plan for it. This, as I saw it, was a blessing. The government then asked people to be diligent and responsible with their water usage the rest of the week, calling for cutbacks (including shutting down car washes, which is a huge independent industry here that supports the livelihoods of so many).

As of yesterday, the water rationing has increased to two water shutoffs a week within Gabs city limits and even more in the villages outside. It is instituted with the hope that they can keep the complete loss of water at bay until the rains come. So it is with cautious optimism that I accept my second day's shutoff. It is a small plan for this big issue but it's something. Rain dances would be appreciated. Anything that might help.

Now if only they could figure out what to do about all the subsidiary problems that are arising...

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