Georgina Guedes

We must try harder to reduce water wastage

2015-11-13 10:23

Right now, we’re all paying lip service to water restrictions. But, says Georgina Guedes, we’re going to accept a radical lifestyle shift if we want to make a difference.

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking to my domestic worker Bianca about what she does on the weekend. Somehow, in this conversation, it emerged that the room she rents has no running water, and that she and her son bath in water that they carry from a communal tap in a plastic tub.
This doesn’t really surprise me. I know that these kinds of converted houses don’t have running water in every room, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. There really isn’t a single thing that Bianca could do differently to reduce her water consumption. But in our house, well, in our house, there’s plenty.

Endless running water is a privilege

Profligate water usage is such an expression of privilege. The ability to stand under hot indoor rain every morning to wash ourselves is a luxury. And when we stand there for an extra couple of minutes, “washing the cobwebs away” just because it feels nice, we are actually playing out extreme indulgence.

Like when we stopped being able to take it for granted that you flip a switch and the light goes on, we are now being forced to confront the far more alarming spectacle of not getting water when we turn on a tap.
Never mind whether this is because of resource mismanagement or the current drought, it’s worth contemplating that our privileged and decadent abuse of resources needs to come to an end.

We use good, clean drinking water to flush our loos. We clean our driveways with hoses. We let our children play with running water at the sink. We have deep baths that we refill and refill with lovely hot water. We shower til the hot water runs out. We leave the tap running while we rinse dishes. We swim in gorgeous sparkling swimming pools.

We can’t go on like this

The fact is that South Africa is a water scarce country, even when there isn’t a drought. We shouldn’t be living like this. We shouldn’t be allowing litres of this precious liquid swirl down our drains while we’re busy doing other stuff like brushing our teeth or conditioning our hair.

So, yes, by all means, get angry that the government hasn’t managed our resources as effectively as they could. But accept, also, that the responsibility should and does lie with us to treat running water as the luxury it is, and to reduce the endless wastage of our privileged positions.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that as inconvenient as it may be for us to flush the loo with a bucket of shower water or water our gardens after the sun has gone down, there are farmers right now who are having to cull their herds and who aren’t able to grow their crops, and people out there who won’t be able to afford the maize that we are now having to import because of crop failures.

To these people, the water shortage isn’t an inconvenience. It’s not just a bit more effort. Their entire livelihoods – and in fact lives – are under threat from this water shortage.

What we should be doing

For the most part, South Africans seem to be coming to the party. I’ve heard friends joking about “green shaming” those with verdant lawns, and everyone’s sharing their tips for saving water. Even so, I think that soon, there will be further restrictions and possibly price hikes.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all do the right thing and really cut back on water usage, even if it hurts a little, before we are forced to by our government?

Aside from following all the tips that help us to save water without really noticing, we should be finding ways to reduce consumption when it does matter to us. Bath less often. Wash with a facecloth. Wash your hair over the edge of a bath with a hand shower. Use your grey water to flush your loo. Flush less often – even if you think it’s gross. Carry buckets from the bath to the garden. Don’t let one precious drop run down the drain.

Remember that people like Bianca makes it through their weeks without ever stepping into a bath or shower. Accept that during a drought in a water-scarce country, where crops are failing and cattle are dying, life is going to get a little bit uncomfortable for everyone. We must do our best to accept some discomfort to reduce the pain for others who stand the chance of losing everything.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    water  |  drought


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