The need for water

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Friday, 07 October 2011 00:00
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“Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink!” is a popular quote of the Ancient Mariner in the 18th century poem by Samuel Coleridge as he surveyed the salty seawater that was not drinkable. Living in northwest Ohio, we are blessed with an abundance of water and it is hard for us to imagine that water is hard to come by for millions of people in the world.

One such place is central Africa, where water is so scarce during the dry season that women and girls have to walk two to four hours each day to get drinking water for the family. Getting water and preparing food is considered women’s work. Girls are often prevented from going to school because they have to get water. And sometimes, if it is a large family with few girls, they make two or three trips a day. And how much water can one carry for two hours?

HAASThe average American uses as much water to flush the toilet twice as the average African uses all day for everything: cooking, drinking, washing clothes and bathing. This was brought to our attention by Bishop Ludovic Minde from the Diocese of Kahama, Tanzania, when he was here several years ago. One of his many needs was to drill wells down to the aquifer, permeable rock that contains water that can be harvested.

The challenge is to locate such rock (it is deep underground) and secondly to fund digging a bore hole to bring the water to surface. The average cost is somewhere around $10,000. The plus-side is one such well can provide water that is usually safe to drink for years for 600 to 800 people.

We were lucky to find a geologist from Bowling Green State University, Bob Vincent, who is very knowledgeable in this area and willing to travel to Tanzania to help locate water underground. He located water in several sites in the diocese, and two families from Norwalk St. Paul each gave $5,000 to dig the well.

I was fortunate to be at Queen of Apostles Seminary at Urishombo in April of 2009 while the well was being dug. A crew of eight came with their huge derrick and much piping to go down some 190 feet to the aquifer. In three days the well was dug and water started to flow. But it would be months and several thousands of dollars more to hook up the piping to all the seminary and parish buildings.

I noticed that although there were plumbing fixtures in the bathrooms, we bathed out of a bucket and flushed by dumping a bucket of water down the toilet. I asked one of the seminarians if he thought they would now have hot showers. He looked at me and replied, “What’s a hot shower?” That said volumes to me. Oh, how spoiled we are!

Father Robert Haas is a senior status priest of the Diocese of Toledo and regularly organizes mission trips to Belize and Tanzania. He may be reached at

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