Recently, several cities in the northern parts of Peru, the country where I live in, were hit by heavy rain that caused catastrophic floods for many people. Dozens have died, and tens of thousands of people have had to flee because their homes have been destroyed. This event has been denoted as “coastal El Niño”.
I live in the city, far from where these floods occurred. But water supplies in the whole country were cut unexpectedly more than a week ago. It came so suddenly that we all had to make do with what we had. My family and I have a cistern (water tank) in our home, so we were okay, but there are many other families with no such convenience in their homes. But the cut in water supply wasn’t what created the major angst within the country.
The angst revolved around the instability that had been created around a basic need. We were told by the largest water supply company (Sedapal), that water would be restored gradually. Day after day, we were told that advances were made, but the unpredictability of the weather and conditions prevented such advances to be put into effect immediately. We would wake up everyday without water, without knowing when it would come back. It was heartbreaking to see people asking about the water supply, sharing news about the disasters, and so on. For more than a week, my Facebook page was filled with saddening news about my country. Everywhere I went, everyone was talking about water. I couldn’t read or do anything without thinking about what was happening around me.
As of now, water supply has been restored in the city, and so has the panic (which I wrote about) surrounding it. But it breaks me to see that what I experienced in this one week is minimal compared to what thousands of other people in the northern sections experienced. So, here’s what I learned from this experience:
One cannot live if one cannot survive first.
I was a wreck during the week when water supply was cut. Not because I had to use as little water as possible, but because I knew that what I was going through was nothing compared to what others living in even the same city were going through. Most of the news I read online typically concern other countries far from me.
When you see natural disasters, shootings or any other heartbreaking news, it’s easy to show your empathy but hard to feel empathetic. And on the back of your mind, it’s hard not to feel relieved that the event didn’t happen close to you.
This is the first time that I have ever been really impacted by a natural disaster. It has made me reconsider the things that I do now, and for the future. It makes climate change so real, because you can actually feel it. I’m creative-oriented, and I live by the belief that teaching people how to live instead of just surviving is key to our progress.
But now, I wonder if the way we are living is harming the way we survive.
Water is precious.
Like other things that we have in abundance in this world, I treated water like whatever. I have always had more than enough water to drink, wash and use whenever I wanted to. I never understood what ‘water scarcity’ meant. But when you’re struck by an unexpected shortage, it’s hard not to realize how precious it is.
I have learned to take 5-minute cold showers without shrieking. I try to use no more than necessary when I’m cooking. I think about every drop I use, because there are people who can only dream of having clean water like I do. I don’t take water for granted no more.
There will always be someone with less than what you have.
In my world, I can easily feel like I have less than what my friends, acquaintances or social media people have. There’s always more that you can buy, travel, and be. And that can be socially and emotionally crippling, as we’ll never feel complete living that way. But when you look at things from the perspective that you have more than what you need, your world shifts. Instead of feeling like you’re not good enough or don’t have enough, your uneasy comes from knowing that you are privileged in some way or another.
I believe that it’s healthy to have a continuous feeling of dissatisfaction. As humans, without it we wouldn’t be able to make progress. But it matters a whole lot the way you look at it. If your fixation is on not having enough, you will strive endlessly to have more for yourself. If your focus is on what others don’t have enough, you will work towards making others’ ends meet. It stops been about you, and it starts being about others.
At the end, we are all in this together.