Tales from the bucket wars

Mar 032008
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Dear Mates,

The past week and a half spent playing soccer in the Ghana University Sports Association was truly unforgettable, but one more event added to the growing list of adventures while in Ghana.

Held in Tamale, the GUSA games gave us the opportunity to experience the northern region during Hama tan season, the driest period of the year in which the sands from the Sahel form a blanket of dust over the atmosphere.

For me personally, our time in Tamale served as a teaspoon taste of how the greater part of the world lives. Without running water for almost the whole duration of our stay, student athletes were forced to go to considerable lengths in satisfying the most elementary of needs, such as bathing.

For the most part, my showers consisted of dumping water over my body with a bottle. There were those, though, who had been wiser and brought buckets along. This fortunate elite became the bucket bourgeoisie.

The worsening water situation, coupled with the disparity between those with buckets and those without buckets, became so grave that it wasn’t long until bucket hostilities broke out.

It was like a scene out of law school, except that instead of hiding or tearing pages out of books, people began collecting water in their buckets and tucking them under their beds. To avoid bucket raids, others simply kept their buckets under lock and key.

The bucket wars were on.

At one point, I was summoned to settle a bucket grievance that had erupted between two of my fellow teammates when a member of the bucket bourgeoisie denied access to her bucket and a name-calling exchange ensued. I went so far as drafting a peace treaty, but, regrettably, both parties refused to sign it.

While the bucket wars saw no causalities, it brought to light a hard, cold reality: living without water can produce conflict even among the most sensible college-educated people.

In the context of the real world, the bucket bourgeoisie serves to represent the average European and American, respectively, consuming between 250-350 and 600 liters of water per person each day, respectively.

Meanwhile, the average sub-Saharan African consumes well below the 50 liters recommended by the UN for drinking, washing, cooking and sanitation.

As these statistics produced by the World Water Council indicate, there is a serious water crisis raging in sub-Saharan Africa. The cables are streaming with stories such as Sabina’s – a woman selling water in the large Kenyan slum of Kibera.

As Salim Lone of Kenya’s Daily Nation wrote, “The water (sold by Sabina) comes from pipes which frequently suck in excrements as they run through open sewage ditches. This water is used for cooking.”

According to Alex Kirby, a BBC News correspondent, water shortages will intensify as the global population continues to grow at its current rate, as industrialization, agricultural production and urbanization further increase and as more people strive to have Western-type lifestyles and diets.

One kilogram of beef, for example, requires 15 cubic meters of water to be produced, whereas a kilo of cereal only needs three cubic meters.

Providing universal access to the UN set 50 liters a day basic minimum target is well within our reach, requiring only one percent of the amount of water used today. Although well within our ability to achieve this end, we are far behind in doing so.

Underscoring the problem, Kirby wrote, “We have to rethink how much water we really need if we are to learn how to share the Earth’s supply.”

So, next time you are taking one of those hour-long showers, please think of those of us showering with merely a bottle. Who’s to say-your actions might just help avert a bucket dispute 8000 miles away in Ghana.

Luci Storelli Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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