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When you picture people living without running water, you may think of inconveniences like having to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. And you may think about not being able to shower for a few days.
But there’s so much more to deal with.
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A home with no running water is not only inconvenient and disruptive—it’s also dangerous. And it’s a real problem: While most Americans take access to safe, running water for granted, more than 2 million Americans today live without running water, basic indoor plumbing, or wastewater treatment.
To fully grasp the gravity of the situation, it’s important to picture the daily conditions of those living with no running water. Specifically, people living with no running water . . .
Have no drinking water: While this is one of the most obvious outcomes, it shouldn’t be easily dismissed. Unless you’re constantly stacking up on water bottles at home, no running water means no water to drink. Side effects of not drinking water range from feeling fatigued and grumpy to faintness and hyperthermia (a body temperature greatly above normal). Never underestimate the power of water. By the time you feel thirsty, you may already be dehydrated, having lost as much as 1 to 2 percent of your body’s water content.
May suffer serious illness: If dehydration becomes chronic, it can lead to more serious, potentially life-threatening conditions like high blood pressure, kidney failure, and muscle damage.
Must find a way to flush the toilet: Because the tank refills itself immediately after flushing, your toilet should have a final flush after the outage. However, after that, you would have to find water to fill the toilet tank (the water must reach the top of the overflow tube) every time you need to flush. And unless you have buckets full of water or neighbors who’ll let you borrow theirs (at all hours), finding the water can become a difficult, time-consuming task.
Become challenged when cooking: Keep in mind that you must always make sure that the water you’re going to drink or cook with is safe. Don’t take water from streams, rivers, or creeks and use it to boil your pasta. Unless bottled, don’t assume that the water you’re drinking is safe, as it may contain dangerous bacteria.
Can’t shower (at least at home): This is where you’d,again, need to rely on friends/family/neighbors’ homes. Or maybe you’d trudge off to use communal showers at school or the gym. Any option would rely on having access to transportation, which can be expensive in the long run and also time-consuming.
Can’t wash hands: People would constantly have to rely on hand sanitizer or any other type of alcohol-based disinfectant. And, while hand sanitizer does kill most germs, it doesn’t remove them and still can’t replace soap and water (dirt, after all, still being dirt).
Find that any type of cleaning becomes difficult: Whether it’s washing clothes or mopping the floors, people at some point need water to clean, which can become a complicated task when the source is limited. You need water for any type of washing machines—and you’ll also need it if you choose to handwash your clothes. You’ll also need water to dilute most type of cleaners, and to do the dishes.
Must deal with suffering pets . . . Humans aren’t the only ones who suffer when access to running water isn’t available. Pets also grow weak and are more susceptible to serious illness if they don’t drink water.
. . . and plants that wilt and die: With limited water supply, chances are, you will choose to prioritize your pets and family’s health over your plants. The aftermath can be especially frustrating to those who grow their own home gardens and depend on them for food.
You can help help people in Prince George and Montgomery counties with no access to running water. To learn more and donate, visit the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.