How I Failed the Thirsting for Justice Challenge

Yesterday my friend and I decided to take the Thirsting for Justice water challenge of living with 24 liters (that’s about 6 gallons for Americans) of water for 24 hours, which is something Palestinians in Palestine are forced to do every day. The challenge was created to educate people about the ways in which Israeli colonists control the water in Palestine even though all of the water sources are Palestinian. An infographic illustrates the problem quite well:

 

Just yesterday, for example, Israel demolished two Palestinian water cisterns, which, of course, meant that Palestinians who relied upon those water sources now do not have any access to water.

To begin this challenge I researched water consumption to get an idea about how much I might use each day. To be sure, my friend and I chose a difficult day because it was the day to clean the flat. This meant that we needed several buckets of water. We also needed to wash our clothes, but could not because the average washing machine requires between 80-170 liters of water (although we had conflicting information on this, we decided to lean towards the high end of the spectrum). So I had to wear some dirty clothes yesterday as a result.

Through my research about water I found some interesting facts about how much we waste when we don’t have to be conscious about our water usage:

  • the average Briton uses the equivalent of 16 buckets worth of water a day. One third of this goes down the loo
  • many people in the world exist on 10 litres of water or less a day, we use this in almost one flush of the toilet

Growing up in California, which does struggle with water issues, sometimes I was made aware of the hazards of taking long showers or flushing the toilet too much. But the water never ran out and so there is only so much of an impression that this warning had on me. Toilet waste is particularly important to think about given how much water it uses beyond what seems necessary. Consider these figures:

There are two types of toilets in my friend’s house. One is the typical type and the other is the kind that gives you a choice for a full or a half flush. Yesterday morning I opted for the half flush thinking that it might let me count a lower end of 9 liters instead of 16 liters. However, even that, when you realize that you only have 24 to use for the entire 24 hours, is too much. So I wasted around 9 liters too early in the day.

For the average American, here is what their indoor water consumption looks like (check out this link for the actual graphic which has enhanced features on the original):

When I tried to add up and estimate my daily usage, without considering how much water goes into cleaning my flat, I came up with a figure of about 234 liters (61 gallson) per day, 130 liters of which are devoted to toilet flushing. These initial figures are based on calculations that say we use 9.5 liters per minute when a faucet is one (for showering, washing hands, washing dishes, etc.). It also lowballs figures on washing clothes, partially because we use a front-loading machine, unlike the typical American top-loading machines, which seem to require more water.

Ultimately, we decided to use the handy water consumption chart on the Thirsting for Justice website:

Based on these figures here is how I failed the challenge:

I woke up, used the toilet, washed my face, brushed my teeth (with the tap off as usual): 12.4 liters.

I made coffee, drank some water, washed dishes (although I suspect washing dishes they way people do here, with the water off, requires less water than the way Americans do it by leaving the water running): 22 liters.

Then we both took showers. Rather than use the faucet, which according to the cart above, would at best require 35-50 liters for a 3 minute shower and at worst 75-90 liters for a 5 minute shower, we opted for a different option. Because even in the best case scenario above, if we only had 24 liters of water for the day, that would mean no shower at all. So we placed 3 liters of water into a pot and boiled it. We brought it into the shower and then split that amount between the two of us. My friend washed her hair, but I did not. This meant that we each used only 1.5 liters for showering.

But we failed when it came to washing the house. Because my friend has a large 3 bedroom flat, and because it requires about 7 buckets to clean the floors, each of which contains 10.5 liters of water, we used up 73.5 liters cleaning the house. And this only got us to the halfway point in the day.

After the house was clean, we made lunch. We washed vegetables, drank water, washed more dishes, and then brushed our teeth again. This required around 23 liters of water.

We spent the rest of the day outside the home where we drank more water (it is summer after all), ate more vegetables (which were washed), and ate off plates (that would then need to be washed). We went to the bathroom and washed our hands (but also used hand sanitizer at times to save the 1.4 liters it takes to wash one’s hands). We chose not to count this water because the 24 liters for 24 hours is for one’s household.

When we returned home I washed my face, brushed my teeth, drank some more water, which required another 4.4 liters.

My total water usage for the day was: 136.8 liters or 35.9 gallons.

Later this month I will try to do this again to see if I can do it on a day when I don’t need to clean the house. But in some ways I think this is a good way to test oneself because in most Palestinian homes, cleaning the house is a daily part of one’s activities.

I encourage others to try to meet this challenge. To sign up, you need only to visit the Thirsting for Justice website. There are a number of resources and fact sheets on the website to learn more about the way water theft accompanies land theft in Palestine. Also, here is an older Amnesty International report on how Palestinians are denied access to their own water. I also encourage people to donate to the Middle East Children’s Alliance Maia Project, which is helping to bring clean, fresh water to Palestinian children.

For those interested in water as an environmental issue more generally, there is an interesting UNDP report co-authored by youth entitled “Water Rights and Wrongs” that addresses the scarcity of water, the need for water, and water as a human right. Finally, I recommend this film Blue Gold, which explores the topic of water as a human right and an environmental more globally:

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