These past two weeks, inspired by the monsoon season, I have been researching Rain Harvesting.
A ritual has begun where, on most mornings, I awaken at around 3 am to the sounds of thunder and light drizzle – followed shortly thereafter by a downpour of rain, underscored by a symphony of raging winds. Jumping up from my pillow, I make my rounds of the house – virtually blind without my spectacles and only slightly able to see shapes and shadows when lightening flashes in the dark – feeling my way with familiarity of touch to all the open windows in an effort to shut them tight before streams of rain pour in too heavily. Then, when all is dry and secured, I make my way outside to the semi-enclosed back terrace where I stand for a few moments to enjoy the storm…Usually finding myself humming Eddie Rabbitt’s ”I Love A Rainy Night” (which has always come to mind since childhood when it rains hard.)
During one of these early morning mediation periods, I reflected upon the heavy amounts of water dumping on the earth around me – watching it stream off my roof shingles and to fill the planters beneath. “Surly,” I thought, “rain wasted on rooftops, and that which runs into cement gullies, and that which pools into puddles on roads, could be utilized in some way?”
The city in which we live is, like most cities, divided into various neighbourhoods. A city council (of some sort) manages a certain degree of formal water distribution, however, not all areas are “on the grid” as fairly as others. For example, the city water management does not pup water to all homes in some of the neighbourhoods built higher up on the mountain of our valley. Many inhabitants then (like my good friends Abdul Waheed and Humaira) must walk each day to a crude communal pipe which delivers spring water down from higher up the mountain. They must fill buckets and jugs, then carry the heavy water back home for their use with cooking, washing, laundry and the lavatory. Such water naturally takes a lot of effort to transport by hand, and what’s worse, it may or may not be very clean or pure – possibly leading to typhoid or parasites if consumed without proper boiling and/or some for of primitive home-made filtering system.
The area of town where my family and I reside is spitting distance from a high profile Pakistani Military Academy (PMA, akin to West Point in the USA). As a result, all streets near the academy are considered “cantonment areas” and subsequently a portion of their maintenance is administrated by the military. (Much to my chagrin.) It still baffles my mind how ~ generally ~ military facilities world-wide, are given so much financial aid by their governments, when schools and amenities like clean water and are so sadly lacking for those citizens the politicians and military leaders claim to be “protecting”. Obviously the phrase “To Serve and Protect”, more often than not, refers to the financial and corporate interests of most nations, and not human life. But I digress, as usual… Thus, the water piped through to our upper story rental house happens to be managed by the Cantonment Board Authority (CBA). (God willing, that will change when the little house we are building is complete – with its own tube well. More on that later…)
Though we don’t have to walk to a communal pump, and actually have water piped through to us directly thanks to the CBA – it should be pointed out that our water service is still nothing like that received by many of you reading this from North America, Europe or…well… most places on the planet. Water is pumped from a local reservoir to the houses on a timed scheduling system ~ certain streets at certain times of the day ~ for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes MAX. Thus – each day, houses on our street each receive about 15 minutes of fresh water into their personal storage tanks. Regardless of how many people may be living in an abode (4 inhabitants or 14 inhabitants) each house on a similar size plot of land receives about the same amount of water and must make it last until the following day’s supply arrives. Those with large plots of land (or friends in prestigious places…ie. military connections) may be permitted to have additional water… if they balk loudly enough.
In the case of our little family and the water we receive: Once the fresh water has arrived into our personal reservoir (located under our front drive-way) we pump it (with a small electric pump), on an as-needs-basis up to another tank on our roof, where gravity pulls it into the pipes of our home and supplies it to our water heaters, kitchen and bathrooms. (Water pressure is then dependent upon how much water is in the upper tank. As that water level drops, so does our water pressure.) Our tanks are pretty “rustic” as well, and must be cleaned manually from time to time…which reminds me…Note to self: clean out water tank sediment before autumn cold sets in.
Introduce the problem of load shedding. The heavy electrically load-shedding here in our area of Norther Pakistan (especially in summers) creates further problems for water distribution as the main cantonment water provider pumps water to the homes using electricity for their industrial pumping system. When load shedding occurs, it means no water can be pumped to the houses. When electricity resumes, the pumping station just picks up with their timed-schedule and houses who should have had water while the electricity was out simply miss their daily quota and have to go without. Last week, a bit of a crisis occurred for our street, when no fresh water was pumped to our houses for almost 4 days in a row.
Though we do all we can in our house to conserve water, (more on that later too), by day 4 even we ran out of water in both our upper tank and lower reservoir.
We called a private water company who brought a truck over in 30 minutes and for the cost of 5 months water services, provided us with 800 gallons of fresh water, which we split with our neighbours who’s tank was also bone dry. Thank God we were in a position financially to buy our water when the grid system failed us. Some on our street were unable to call in water from a private distributor.
Now – please think about all that for a minute. In many places of this world – where you may live and even where I grew up – water just flows through pipes filling bathtubs, dishpans, garden hoses… it washes $60,000 cars and flushes toilets in shopping malls, Buckingham Palace and even the White House. So much goes down the drain and usually without much thought. Ironically, last year, Pakistan experienced the most tragic flooding our century has ever seen…. acres of water washed away hundreds of villages and has effected the lives of millions for the next generation. So even here in semi-rural Northern Pakistan, water exists, but like most natural resources – it is monopolized by those who access it with their might and financial ability…distributing it and selling it only to those who can afford it.
Living in a place where water is so monopolized, has forced me to reexamine how I use it ~ here in Paksitan and during the times I am back in North America or on tour elsewhere. It has also awakened me to how important it is for the rest of the world to understand just how deprived many people are when it comes to accessing clean water. In July 2010 the UN declared water a “fundamental human right”. Tragically, (I am ashamed to say) my own home and native land (along with the US and UK) abstained from voting on the decision.
“Live on a mountain? Tough luck…go walk 5 miles to a spring for your water and carry it home on your back like a mule. Live in town? Fine, we’ll pump you water when we can…and if you can afford it…but we’ll make sure our military and it’s generals have theirs first. Didn’t get your water? Well, who are you anyway? Oh, your brother is a Major? Ok, we’ll send you some…but don’t tell your neighbours. Any body else have a complaint? Well, if you can afford it – go buy it some place else. Can’t afford to buy your water… tough luck pal.”
So – as I stand on my back terrace at 3 am watching the monsoons wash the world, now you may better understand why my mind wanders to and wonders on the matter of Rain Harvesting and how perhaps I could collect the rain to help with things like – watering plants, flushing toilets and washing floors. Others may own my pipe line and think they own my water…for now anyway….but they don’t own the sky, they don’t control the rain and neither I nor my vegetable patch want to, nor will we allow them to, dictate how we grow.
More on Rain Harvesting later. I must run now to bring in the laundry and position some buckets…the sky is clouding over and I hear thunder rolling in.