For families throughout El Salvador, including marginalized, urban communities like San Ramón, life becomes more inconvenient, more vulnerable, and more expensive.
Amongst our scholarship families, 93% have access to running water in their homes. Three families must use alternate methods, such as buying from water trucks that pass through neighborhoods. For those with running water, the monthly bill doesn’t represent a significant percentage of their income – the average reported bill was $5.97, and many families pay between $2 and $3. Nevertheless, “access” to water doesn’t necessarily mean what you might think.
In wealthy neighborhoods, water may be available between 16 and 24 hours a day, and most homes have a tank and pump system that will keep water running even when access is turned off. For marginalized communities, however, it’s not uncommon for the water to turn on for only a few hours a day, often in the middle of the night—and low-income families do not have a tank and pump system to keep water flowing. Instead, families take advantage of when the water is turned on to fill up a “pila,” one of the basic staples of a Salvadoran home.
The pila is a concrete structure with two sides to it. One side is deep with a faucet and is used to collect and hold water when it’s available. The other side is shallow, and is used for washing clothes, dishes, and, often, for bathing small children. Small buckets are used to dip into the water reserves and wash on the other side. They are usually located off the kitchen area of a home in a small patio, where family members also bathe in the open air using the “bucket shower” system. It is a functional piece of equipment that allows Salvadoran families to adapt to their minimal access to running water— though not infrequently, access is turned off for days, and even the pila runs dry.
In addition to the inconvenience of losing access to water in their homes, families also must assume the health risks of drinking tap water and having multiple open containers of water around – ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as dengue and zika. El Salvador’s own Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources found in 2014 that 95% of the country’s water resources were of poor quality. None of the samples taken from surface water were found to be “excellent,” and only 5% were of “good” quality. Wastewater contamination and pollution combine to create risks of bacterial infections and parasites a common reality for those who can’t afford bottled or purified water.
In the future, El Salvador is on track to suffer from serious complications to its water supply. The wells and rivers that service rural communities are threatened by droughts and deforestation, while high population density, aging infrastructure, and mismanagement will become even more complicated in urban areas. Despite the “access” to running water that the majority of the families we work with enjoy, their reality is not so simple. Intermittent service and contamination put families’ health at greater risk and influence the time and money they must spend on accomplishing basic tasks.
We hope this offers some insight into another small, but significant, aspect of life in El Salvador, and the resilience and resourcefulness displayed by the people here. Check out our infographic below for more details.