Fighting for Water: Extreme Poverty in Bolivia

Marina lives with her husband, children alongside her sister’s family and their parents in the same home.

Here’s her story – depicting how poor housing is affecting everyone’s lives, in particular the lack of water.

Those fortunate enough to have running water in her village aren’t allowed to share it with anyone otherwise they risk being cut off from the distribution system.

Several generations under one roof

“My sister has part of one room and we have the other. My parents have part of another bedroom, while the rest of the family has the other part. The reality of it is that my father’s family is six people, mine is five, and my sister’s family is four. I live next to my parents’ room and we only have one bathroom.

Sometimes we just have to accommodate each other and work it out if we all want to use the bath at the same time. Water comes in only once a week

As it’s the only house, we just have the one bath and one sink – in fact we only had the sink put in about two months ago. So we just have to divide it up as to who gets it in the morning and the evening, otherwise we’re left with no water.

We’re not connected to the sewer system here. It’s a real problem to get rid of the bath water, or after washing our clothes. We have to get all of us together and use the bath to carry the water to where it can be tipped out.

It’s a really long way all the way down there, so you can’t do it using the basin. Because we’re not on the sewer system, we only get water once a week and then we have to use that to wash, bathe ourselves, cook with – the water doesn’t last very long.”

Scavenging for water at night

“We only started having access to water at all quite recently. Before we got the sink, we used to have to survive by going out from ten at night to collect some, carrying it in whatever we could find – bottles, boxes, glasses, in bags etc.

That was so that people wouldn’t notice, otherwise we could be reported and the person with the water supply could be cut off for passing the water on. And then no one would have water. So, sometimes my sister and I were there carrying water from 10pm, 11pm, 12pm at night – sometimes even until 1 in the morning.

My mum would have to carry it, me and even my husband – he would carry water back from work in the car, from my relatives’ houses. That’s what we used to have to do before just to have water in the bath.”

Extreme poverty breeds extreme situations

“Once, my mother was really suffering in the night and she really needed some water, so I went to the neighbours to ask for help, but they wouldn’t give us any water. They said “no, we can’t we can’t because they’ll cut off the water!” Now that we have the water we get it in big jars, for the week, but it’s still prohibited to give it away.

All the people who live above my house also have to suffer in order to get water. People living in the hills above my house don’t have any water. The majority of people in district 9 still don’t have running water and they’re suffering every day because of the lack of it.”

Our human rights training programme

“We just don’t have the sewer systems to have it. Being in Habitat’s women’s network has definitely helped me.

It has taught us about the rights we have – we had nothing like this before. It surprised me quite a lot to see that there was more and more information. So I grew more and more interested and it has taught me a lot about becoming a leader.

In case I were able to get work and do things like this, I would like to encourage me in this because it would give me more freedom, along with my family and with my own daughters. I got involved with the network to be an advocate, a voice, and I want them to keep supporting us to go a long way with this.”

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