Friday, June 17, 2011

Living at the end of the waterline

Bombo and friends working on the waterline

Over the past 13 years, Michael Masso and many helpers (both Ugandan and missionaries) built a water line from Ngite Falls to Nyahuka where we live. On the way the line branches to many communities and brings clean water to nearly 70,000 people. Before the line was in place, cholera epidemics were regular and annually many people died of this terrible disease. Since the completion of the waterline, there have not been any recorded deaths due to cholera in our area.

Three days ago, the water stopped flowing to Nyahuka. I checked the source at the waterfall and found it to be flowing well. Baffled, I followed the line of taps (many broken) from the waterfall to our town. With each tap the flow was smaller until at the hill just above our house, it stops.

Between the taps there are about a dozen of line breaks where water is spilling onto the land making large mud pits. You would think people would not want these mosquito-carrying, land destroying swamps in front of their house. Surprisingly, it is probably those land owners that cut the line.

It is currently not cocoa season. So, there is no income in our district. However, one can make bricks out of the mud on their land and sell it to make ends meet. There are some houses that are 2 feet above their surrounding yard. Why? Because they have cut away the dirt to make bricks and, over the years, the house has become elevated. Today, I passed one yard and saw mud seemingly flying out of the ground. As I got closer I saw a man digging a hole in his front yard about 5 feet deep and 10 feet long. Behind it was a large stack of bricks he was making.

So, with every mud pit and broken tap I passed, I became more and more angry. Why are people so careless about our waterline? Do they not realize that their selfishness of not replacing leaking taps or cutting lines is leaving thousands of people without water and possibly causing an epidemic that could take the lives of dozens of children?

Then I sat convicted. Why am I only worried about this on day 3 of the crisis? Because it is only now threatening the water supply that fills up the cistern that gives water to my kids; in a few days, we will also be carrying jerry cans of water from the river for our family’s use. I have been thinking “Sure, people can walk to the river with jerry cans and lug them back to their house to boil. If they don’t boil, it’s their fault. This is how it has been for centuries. I have other good work to do at the clinic.” But now it is threatening us. Before this, I was happy to take two showers a day in the stifling heat just to cool off, even if others were struggling. After all, there is plenty of water around. They can figure it out.

Then I became even more angry. The people upstream did not worry about using the water because there seemed to be so much of it. The source, Ngite Falls, is a power full 300ft waterfall that is always flowing. If they took a little just for them, it shouldn’t matter. This is the mentality of our public officials have regarding their “cuts” of money they take for each good will project that comes along. Because of this, we have no blood or medicine at our government health center. None. The money has been sent to local officials for that medicine and blood and it has even been signed for, but still we wait to see any of it reach Nyahuka Health Center.

Then I became convicted. When I reached the people at the source, they seemed completely oblivious that there was any problem 12 km away in Nyahuka Town. If there was, it definitely was not their problem. Water abounded here. This is definitely how I viewed and still view much of life. There are so many resources that surround us in the West. What I use is like dipping three buckets of water out of the Mississippi River. What I did not realize is that with all of us taking out three buckets, there is nothing left at the end of the line. And, here at the end of the line, children are dying, one to two out of every five children born die before they reach the age of five. Most children do not attend secondary school. Most women and their daughters do not know how to read. Almost half of the children are malnourished which causes physical and mental growth stunting.

Frustrating days like these make me want to pack up and move back to the US. But now I am realizing, that even if we did, my heart would still ache for my friends suffering at the end of the waterline.

Post script: (Amy writes) Travis has located a man with water experience and is meeting with him right now to examine the leaks and try to bring some repairs. At CSB, students have been going to the river with jerry cans for water and some have now complained of stomach issues. Lorry trucks have now brought clean water for the kitchen to use for their meals which have been delayed due to lack of water.

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