The miracle of water

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The miracle of water

By Chris Brazier , New Internationalist editor. Every ten years, he returns to Burkina Faso and writes about it.


Photo from 'Inside an African Village: Heart and soul - ten years of change', New Internationalist magazine, June 1995 (Issue 268). by Chris Brazier

One of the most important things I have learned from being in the village Sabtenga is to value water. It is the greatest gift. We cannot simply expect it to always be there like we usually do at home.

I stayed here first in 1985. The rains were very late and the ground was very dry. The local girls and women had carried every drop of water I used, for drinking or for washing, for more than a mile from the well in big metal bowls on their heads. The metal bowls were so heavy that it was difficult for me to lift one up to my head. Once I tried to walk with a bowl on my head and the girls laughed at me.


Sabtenga - a map of the village, New Internationalist magazine, June 1995, Issue 268

When I returned to England that first year I thought I would always remember what a miracle it is that we can turn on a tap and get as much water as we want. But this is difficult when it is so easy to get such good, clean water. After weeks and months, you start to simply expect the water to always be there. We should remember how lucky we are to be born in a place where water – now at least – is not one of life’s problems.

My visits after that made me remember how valuable water is. Things have changed and are now better. In 2005 there were new water pumps nearer the concessions (the French name for the walled areas around the houses of one family) and the children collected water in plastic containers. They often carried it on a donkey cart, not on their heads. But now, 11 years later, the water table is much lower in the dry season. So they had to dig new, much deeper pumps so they can get water all year. These pumps are much more expensive and there are only a few so far. (See New Internationalist January/February 2017 for more).

It is easier for me to get water this time. In 2005 I was living in the town of Garango and I got water in a bucket from a pipe in the street with other residents. Now, in Garango again, but staying with the NGO Association Dakupa, I can walk out of my bedroom and fill a bucket from a pipe less than ten metres away. But I feel that water is valuable because I have to get it in a bucket, not from a tap. I know that I will forget this again when I go home and have tap water to drink and shower. But these weeks in Burkina Faso make me think about how lucky we are in the Global North – and how difficult it is to get water for people in other parts of the world.