Monday, September 02, 2013

The luxury of turning on a tap and getting clear, cold water

Safely back in Copan Ruinas after two weeks in Canada and the northwest U.S., and still thinking about differences between the countries.
Life is generally better in North America. Schools, health care, government, income, equality - everything works better, I told anyone in the north who asked. 
But then I usually warned them, too loudly, that they had to fight to make sure things stayed that way. 
Practically, water figured in two of the best things about being back in Canada. I could stick a glass under any tap and drink clean water, impossible in Honduras.
And I could flush toilet paper away, instead of placing tidily folded - I think of it as bathroom origami - offerings in a plastic bag, to be bundled up for garbage day.
Access to drinkable water is important. We buy bottled water, five gallons for $1, which I carry back from the little farm supply store on the next block. (So far, I estimate that I have lugged a little more than three tonnes of water into the house.) 
But most people can’t afford water, or can’t get the bottles up the trails into their villages. Many drink iffy water, accepting the various sicknesses that brings. (Another reason that about 29 per cent of Honduran children under five are stunted - significantly too short for their age.)
Partly, of course, that’s because Honduras is just too poor and the government too broke to pay for working water systems. Why it’s so poor, and the government so broke, is a whole other question. Corruption, inefficiency, tax evasion, dependency, failed policies - you can make a long list of problems. (Foreigners do help with water projects, especially in rural communities. But 50 per cent fail within five years, according to an engineer speaking at the Conference on Honduras last year.)
Almost anyone in Canada can turn on a tap and get drinkable water because we decided to make that a priority. We decided to tax people based on what they could pay, hire competent staff and build water systems that served everyone. (Almost everyone - First Nations’ communities have dismal water services, and there are hundreds of B.C. communities on boil-water advisories at any time.)
People pay for water, but it’s affordable and available in their homes.
Not everyone in Canada thinks that approach is right. The less-government crew - or at least the extremists - would argue that the whole process of supplying water should be left to the private sector and the market. Those who can pay will get water. Those who can’t.... I suppose they will develop an understanding of life in Honduras.


Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Why don't Hondurans who do not have access to clean water substitute it with homemade beer? This, as I understand it, was the practice in Britain before they sorted out their water problems.

scotty on denman said...

Why do 50% of waterworks fail within 5 years? Broken parts? Contamination? Lack of power? The electric-submersible pump in my well will last for decades--alls it needs is power.

paul said...

Scotty on Denman:
An excellent question on water-system failures. The engineer, a former Peace Corps vol working in Honduras, said the lack of engineering reviews is a problem. Projects are not designed well enough.
I think community capacity and readiness is important. If a Rotary Club comes down and builds a system for a community that has no plan for maintenance, things won't end well. (On the other hand, a group of seven communities down the road have a good system and have regular volunteer work sessions to maintain it.)
And things just go wrong. Not long after we arrived, my partner's organization was helping some Texans who came down to improve a water system way up in the hills. A big part was digging the hole for a new storage cistern, to be lined with brick and concrete; I helped one day, and it was brutal.
But the tradesman who planned the project apparently miscalculated. The hole is bigger than it needs to be; the community doesn't have money to pay for more bricks to make a bigger reservoir. As far as I know, nothing has happened.

Anonymous said...

Sure, it would be impossible for any private company to do something so incredibly difficult as providing cheap and clean water. They have already failed miserably at providing $10 international air tickets and $1 hamburgers..
No, we'd better just keep stealing money from those not rich enough to hire a clever tax-guy and that will make it all work just great. It's not really stealing if we don't call it stealing!

Btw, I'm in Copan Ruinas right now and experiencing the water problem first hand, that's how I came across this blog.