There are two seasons here in the highlands of PNG. During wet season, "taim bilong ren" or "time of rain," it precipitates pretty much every day. Things get a bit soggy. Our front yard occasionally becomes a small lake. Sometimes there is some flooding in low lying areas. But it is nothing as crazy as the monsoons in India! The other season is dry, "taim bilong san" or "time of sun." Instead of raining every day, it will generally rain a couple of times a week.
This year the dry season is a bit drier than usual. There have been a couple of times that we have gone without rain for plus or minus a week. Apparently the overall rainfall is at a 10 year low for the area.
Lack of rain makes things interesting for several reasons. First, we depend on rain for our home water supply. The rain runs down the roof, along the gutters, and is collected in a water tank. We use this water for drinking, making ice cubes, showers, washing clothes, and anything else you might use water for. When the rain doesn't come and the water level on the tank begins to fall, we need to conserve water. Dirty dish water is used to water plants or flush toilets. Long luxurious showers are traded for bucket baths or "military showers." Good thing we haven't had to give up bathing all together. So far.
Rain water is also used to supply the hospital... the tap for washing hands, cleaning laundry and sterilizing instruments, water for patients and their families to drink, formula for babies, supply for the operation theater. There have been several times when the water has run dry on one ward or another. Thankfully the hospital hasn't run out completely!
Previously we had a well system that was used as a back up system for the hospital and homes on the station. If your tank ran dry, you could fill it up with well water. This hasn't really been working for a couple of months now. I think it is a broken pump, or perhaps an almost dry well, or both.
Another difficulty for my Papua New Guinean friends is their gardens. Gardens grow year round. People don't need to store up for the future because they can just go out to the garden and get what they need when they need it. So when things are too dry, the gardens don't produce as much and food supply starts to become a bit an issue.
Back home in the US, I certainly never thought about how much water it takes to flush a toilet, or letting the water run while I brush my teeth. I don't really think about it during PNG rainy season. But now I am starting to feel a concerned! There are millions of people around the world who are affected by limited access water. In fact, clean water and sanitation are two of the biggest public health issues. Here are a few water and sanitation facts from water.org:
- 1 in 8 people does not have access to safe water
- more people in the world have cell phones than access to a toilet
- diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5
- women spend more than 200 million hours each day collecting water for domestic use
- a 5 minute shower uses more water than a typical person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day
(For more information, here is a fact sheet on water and sanitation provided by the UN.)
Rain, rain... please don't go away! I pray that you will come today.
"Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime;
it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds.
He gives showers of rain to men,
and plants of the field to everyone."
~ Zechariah 10:1