19/05/2015 06:33 BST | Updated 18/05/2016 06:59 BST

Living Without Water - Volunteering in Nicaragua with Raleigh International

At first it sounds impossible, but it's not. People do it all over the world for days and even weeks on end. I remember vividly the second week living with my host family in Nicaragua. We had a big orange carton called a "pichinga" which we filled up with water from the well at the bottom of our garden and purified with a chlorine tablet. Occasionally we would have running water from a tap to be purified.


One morning I woke up and the pichinga was empty. I spoke to Catherine, the Nicaraguan girl who I lived with and said, "can you tell Dereys and Maycol we need more water please?" She asked Derys, our host mum, then turned to me and said, "there is no water." I couldn't comprehend this. "What do you mean there's no water? There can't just be 'no water'. What are we supposed to drink?" "The water hasn't come," she replied.

Later I spoke to my team leader who had spent 6 months living in Argentina the year before. He told me I'd just have to find someone else in the village who had water and get it from them.

There were often times when we had no water at our home in Aguas Calientes. The way the water system worked in Nicaragua was that the cities would have first access to water, then the towns, then villages, like where I was staying, would get what was left. So if people in the cities used too much water, those in the villages would get none.

When I was there, no rain had fallen in weeks. I could count on both hands the days it rained during the ten weeks. Rival gangs were beginning to get restless and cause fights because of the drought, a Nicaraguan charity worker told me.

Eventually the rain came, and everyone celebrated. There had been many periods where we'd had no water for five or six days at a time. All of my family's crops had died and our cows had stopped producing milk.


One of the volunteers bucket showers. When we occasionally got water from the cities it would come down the white pipe. It was otherwise filled up by rain.

One of the volunteers bucket showers. When we occasionally got water from the cities it would come down the white pipe. It was otherwise filled up by rain.

So what do you do when you don't have water for days?

You ask for help from friends and family, other people in your community. You just have to get on with your life.

But this highlights the way that we view water in the UK and other Western countries is wrong. It's seen as a commodity to be used and wasted. We often don't value it because it's always there and we don't think about the process it has gone through to get to our homes. To be honest, I'm embarrassed about the way I reacted to there not being any water the first time it happened.

While I was in Nicaragua the #icebucketchallenge was well underway. So back home people were pouring gallons of water away for social media or sometimes charity, while people in Nicaragua were walking for miles to get water every day, riots were breaking out and people's livelihood's were being destroyed. Now I treat water as more of a luxury than a commodity, and try not to waste it. I realise how lucky we are to have constant access to it in the UK. Here are 10 easy tips on how to save water by the charity Eden Project:

1. Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth - this can save 6 litres of water per minute.

2. Place a cistern displacement device in your toilet cistern to reduce the volume of water used in each flush. You can get one of these from your water provider.

3. Take a shorter shower. Shower can use anything between 6 and 45 litres per minute.

4. Always use full loads in your washing machine and dishwasher - this cuts out unnecessary washes in between.

5. Fix a dripping tap. A dripping tap can waste 15 litres of water a day, or 5,500 litres of water a year.

6. Install a water butt to your drainpipe and use the water collected to water your plants, clean your car and wash your windows.

7. Water your garden with a watering can rather than a hosepipe. A hosepipe uses 1,000 litres of water an hour. Mulching your plants (with bark chippings, heavy compost or straw) and watering in the early morning and late afternoon will reduce evaporation and also save water.

8. Fill a jug with tap water and place this in your fridge. This will mean you do not have to leave the cold tap running for the water to run cold before you fill your glass.

9. Install a water meter. When you're paying your utility provider for exactly how much water you use, laid out in an itemised bill, there's an incentive to waste less of the stuff.

10. Invest in water-efficient goods when you need to replace household products. You can now buy water-efficient showerheads, taps, toilets, washing machines, dishwashers and many other water-saving products. For more information visit the Waterwise website.

Why does saving water matter?

Even though water doesn't appear in short supply in the UK, using less water actually means you are:

Reducing energy use. Cleaning waste water (or 'grey water', as it's called) is an energy-intensive process; so is heating the hot water that comes out of your taps.

Saving money. If you're on a water meter, these tips above could save you a bob or two.