Navigating Peace Corps Service Without Running Water

Navigating Peace Corps Service Without Running Water

hot and cold water faucets with text: Navigating Service Without Running Water

In the USA, indoor plumbing is pretty standard. We can expect hot and cold running water 24/7. But that is a luxury that some Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) do not have. However, it is not all or nothing with running water during your Peace Corps service. Be prepared for a variety of potential water scenarios.

The water situation can vary greatly across Peace Corps service areas. You could be within a few miles of another PCV. But only one of you have hot and cold water from the tap and the other gathers water from a community well or other water source.

So what should you do if you are posted to a site with limited or no running water? Before the pandemic, trainees could get tips from PCVs in country. That is no longer the case. To bridge the gap, RPCV Health Crusade is sharing health-related tips and tricks to help PCVs navigate service.

Evaluating Your Water Situation At Site

You might only get running water at certain times of the day.  Some home sites only have cold water from the tap. You might only have water from the taps during the wet or dry season. And you may not have any running water at all. You may have to gather water from a local water source. Some PCVs buy or make other arrangements to get drinking water.

You get your site assignment while you are still in pre-service training. Ask the Peace Corps staff about the options and availability on nutrient-rich foods, drinking water, and physical activity at site. 

During training, you get a site visit. This gives you a jump in understanding your new environment. Before the pandemic, you could be visiting the PCV that you will replace. That was a great way to get some direct tips and workarounds. But after the pandemic reset, it is less likely to find a PCV during your site visit.

If you didn’t get a site visit or get to connect with the outgoing PCV, then do a water assessment as soon as you arrive at your new site.

Clean Potable Water Is Non-Negotiable

8 tall glasses of water being filled at different levels

If you are serving at a site with limited access to water, the top priority is potable drinkable water. Bathing, cleaning, watering plants, and other uses for water rank lower than drinking clean water.

There needs to be enough clean potable water for the PCV to stay adequately hydrated every day. The amount of potable water you need to consume depends on your environment and activities.

Fruit juices, milk, broth, teas, and certain fruits with high water content like watermelon can contribute to that daily water count as long as you don’t have medical limitations (lactose-intolerant, high blood sugar, etc.). And only count them if you can rely on them being available to you every day.

Sodas are not the best option as alternatives to water. And alcohol dehydrates so you need to drink even more water if you drink alcohol.

What If You Don’t Have Enough Clean Water?

Your water doesn’t have to come from the tap. If you have to get to it or buy it, is it close enough to walk to that source every day? Do you have a way to carry it from the source to your home every day? Does your living allowance cover the cost?

If you don’t have access to enough clean drinkable water, then address it immediately with Peace Corps staff. If you learn this during your site visit, get a resolution before transferring to your new site. And if you lose access to drinking water during your service, contact the PCMO/staff as soon as possible. Work with them to come up with a viable plan for daily drinking water.

If the Peace Corps staff cannot ensure sufficient drinkable water at your site, then ask for a new site. No one could or should serve two years in a semi-dehydrated state.

Part-time Running Water

You could be at a site with part-time water. That means you only have running water on certain times of the day or only on certain days. It could be a water sharing or water rationing situation. The area could be going through a drought or dry season. And, it could also be one of a number of other reasons. Just make it work for you.

Learn to adjust your water needs. Do you have to take a full bath or shower? Or, will a wipe down do the job? Keep a container of water handy to just rinse your hands. HCNs learned to adapt. You can too.

Fill the pot with water during the time of day when it was running. Just keep the pot covered on the kitchen counter until you need to make your soup for dinner. Water doesn’t spoil. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Just keep it sealed and secure until you need it.

And, fill that washing bucket to pre-soak your clothes. For anyone hand-washing clothes, pre-soaking in some detergent makes a huge difference to break down the dirt. Just avoid putting that detergent directly onto your clothes. Some detergents could be strong enough to fade the color or even eat away at the fabric.

Create a routine to collect and store the water when it is running. Then you still have it when it isn’t. Even if it is scheduled to be available at certain times, that may or may not happen on schedule. There are no guarantees of when or if that water will start running again. Don’t assume. Just adapt.

And be prepared to share. You may get visits from other PCVs or your HCN neighbors. Being a good host means you offer a beverage even if it is just a glass of cool water.

Cold Running Water Only

You may have indoor running water but it is only cold or tepid at best. Be glad to have running water at all! You can adapt your water needs.

When the temperature is over 100F, a cool shower may be refreshing. But if the water is too cold, that could be an unhealthy shock to your system no matter what the air temperature is.

If water is too cold from the tap for bathing, you could try collecting the water in a large bucket or tub. Then give it time to come to a warmer or room temperature. If you need it warmer than that, heat up some water and mix it in.

Can you alternate showers with wipe downs? You can also try limiting the amount of time you are under that cold water. Turn off the water when you soap down or shampooing and then turn the water back on to rinse off.

A solar camping shower was a game-changer for some PCVs who can’t live without those hot water showers. Just test the water temperature before you use it. Unfortunately, solar showers can heat the water so much that it can burn. And make sure it is sealed and secure before you use it. You didn’t spend all that time waiting for the sun to heat up your solar shower just to spill it on the floor when you tripped.

Using Water in Stages

water droplet with three curving arrows to symbolize reusing and recycling

If you have limited access to water, try to stretch it out or reuse it in stages. You don’t have to have clean fresh water for every instance of water use.

Use the water from rinsing your hands to reuse for mopping or cleaning. But don’t reuse the greasy or dirty water for anything that needs to be sanitary. Any water you drink or cook with must be potable.

You may have a flush toilet but water is only running during certain times of the day. You can collect the water from washing dishes, brushing teeth, bathing, mopping, or laundry and using that water to flush. If you decide to “go” and wait to flush, just know that it can get very aromatic and create a buildup. This could also create a bad impression if your HCN neighbors come by for an unexpected visit.

Storing Water Is Key

If you don’t have running water 24/7, then you need to figure out how to get what you need. Do you have enough water storage containers?  Fill up as many containers you have as often as you can. Even if you have running water, it doesn’t hurt to have some stored for a rainy day. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it when you do need it.

Store that water in a safe place that pests (or people) cannot get to. Make sure to keep it sealed and secure. You definitely do not want to offer breeding opportunities for mosquitos or other bugs. And keep it out of the way so you don’t accidentally knock it over.

Create a system to instantly know which containers are full or empty. Know which container was stored when. Using the water stored earliest gives the longest amount of time for sediments to settle.

Make sure you have at least several days’ worth of drinkable water stored on hand. There are times where you lose water and it is not planned. Pipes break. Wells run dry. Water pumps stop working. Water pressure drops too low. This might take awhile to resolve. It could take several days to get water to you. Again, it is better to have it and not need it…

Keep Water Containers Clean and Separated

a collection of 8 different sized water containers

Make sure to keep those water containers clean. Sometimes water from a well or pipes could include sediments. Give it time to settle.

Keep those drinking water bottles clean too. If you don’t have a water bottle with a large opening, get a small brush to keep it clean inside and out. Don’t forget to thoroughly clean the spout and threads. And hit those corners, edges, bends, and dents. Any places where dirt, germs, and saliva can collect become places for mold and other bacteria too.

Create a routine to use the longest stored water first. That water had the longest amount of time for any sediments (or anything else) to settle to the bottom of the container. Avoid drinking or cooking with the water at the bottom of the container. Use that for other things.

And clearly label which containers to use for clean water versus collected water for secondary usage or flushing. Be consistent on where you store each type of container. Don’t get complacent. Check the label before using water out of any container.

Running Water is a Luxury During Service

As PCVs, what we do in our host country reflects on other PCVs and the USA. Don’t keep the water running when it is not being used. The amount of water you waste could mean less water for a neighbor or nearby community.

Watch and learn. What are your HCN neighbors doing? Being clean and appearing clean is usually very important. Don’t skip the showers and laundry efforts during service. It makes a difference. You will have more time than you realize during service.

Even if the PCV has 24-hour access to running water, it is important to still set a good example. Look for opportunities to conserve water. Don’t leave the water running while brushing or shaving. Don’t stay in the shower for hours to contemplate the meaning of life. Excessive water usage by a household of PCVs could mean less water for the rest of the community. It also could start rumors of entitlement and waste which makes it harder to be accepted or be effective in your role.

Look for Opportunities

During service, expect everything you do or say to be on full display. The HCNs always seem to know. Some will judge you. Sometimes they judge unfairly or very harshly based on pre-existing biases. Take the opportunity to correct those biases.

Parts of the world do not get running water piped into their homes. Hot water is a luxury. Learn to adapt to the environment that you are now in. Appreciate the opportunity to experience life from a different perspective. That is a part of the Peace Corps experience.

And if you or your HCN neighbors don’t have sufficient running water consistently at your site, consider creating a secondary project to tackle that. It can also be a project after service too. Once a PCV, forever an RPCV.

Let’s share more tips and workarounds for the next generation of PCVs.


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