When we first arrived in Moshi, we were very excited about the cost of purified water. We purchased a 1.5 liter bottle of purified water for 1,000 Tanzanian Shillings (tsh). With the current exchange rate of 1,500 tsh for one U.S. dollar, each 1.5 liter bottle of purified water costs $0.66. That was incredibly affordable at first glance.
Rich and Barb tease us because we drink a lot of water. We drink about 5 liters of water combined per day. That equals a little over one gallon. Again, considering our daily walks to work and the heat, we do not think this is very surprising that we consume so much water.
In Tanzania, they sell a 10 liter jug of purified water for 6,000 tsh, or about $4.00. We prefer it over the smaller bottles for the convenience of having fewer plastic bottles to throw away each week. Just in case anyone is wondering, there are not any recycling facilities in Moshi. The larger jugs have been unavailable several times already, so sometimes we purchase the smaller bottles and deal with the excess trash.
Last week we needed a few more grocery items than would be possible to carry home. We decided to drive the ever faithful Land Rover to our favorite grocery store to stock up on provisions. At the grocery store, we found six 10 liter jugs of purified water! We decided to purchase all of the larger jugs and spent $24.00 on water alone, but we were very excited to have purified water for about two weeks.
After we expressed our excitement, we both fell silent. The average monthly income for a Tanzanian is $40.00. We will be spending $50.00 on purified water each month. It is no wonder that diseases from water, such as dysentery, are so common in developing countries. Dysentery is one of the top three causes of death in Tanzania, but safe drinking water is not even an option for most Tanzanians.
In the United States, safe water is nearly everywhere. There are drinking fountains in most public buildings, nearly every restaurant offers free tap water that is safe to drink, and it is safe to drink water from hotel room sinks. If the water is not safe, or if it is suspected to have harmful chemicals, the government warns people and the problem is usually fixed in a few weeks. This is why many people say that poverty in developed countries does not compare to poverty in the rest of the world. Something that is common and widespread in the United States, safe drinking water, is simply unaffordable for most people in Tanzania.
Fortunately, we can afford it. We brush our teeth with bottled water and at restaurants we purchase purified bottled water to drink with our meals. We avoid common diseases and harmful bacteria because we can afford to spend $50.00 a month on safe purified water.
The United States is a privileged country, not because of the gross domestic product or because of the average income, but because a luxury such as safe drinking water is an afterthought. We decided – upon our return to the United States – if we ever need a reminder of why we work so hard to do the things we are trying to do, we will brush our teeth with tap water and appreciate everything that we have.