When I was volunteering at Maya Pedal in Guatemala there was a sign on the wall that said “Que Caro Es Ser Pobre”. It means “How expensive it is to be poor.” As I travel through many of the world’s “poor” countries, I am writing a series of articles about how expensive it is to be poor. I don’t think many people in “rich” countries understand how difficult it is to climb out of poverty. I am all about positivity and I am having the time of my life right now. But I would be doing a disservice to the amazing people I’ve met if I didn’t share their story of what life is like dealing with poverty.
In many of the countries I’ve visited so far on The Happy Nomad Tour I couldn’t drink water from the tap. The people I’ve stayed with have had to buy potable water.
Each country does this differently. Often, in cities, people put an empty 5-gallon water jug outside their door and when the water truck goes by, they reclaim the used jug and sell you a full one. In El Salvador, it was common to see 1 gallon water jugs and those could be refilled in machines in grocery stores.
I don’t remember exactly how much water costs in each place. But in Leon, Mexico I think it cost 17 Pesos/$1.25 for a 5-gallon jug. In San Cristobal, Mexico I think it was 20 Pesos/$1.50. In Honduras a 5-gallon jug costs 20 Lempira/$1.05.
$1.50 may sound like a small amount to pay for 5 gallons of potable water when that may be how much a bottle of Aquafina or Dasani costs in the U.S. But again, in these countries the wages and purchasing power are way, way lower. And the cost for 5 gallons of tap water in the U.S. is, presumably, a few pennies.
Not paying for water means playing Russian Roulette with the microbes and diseases that could be in the water. Treating subsequent health problems would obviously be a huge expense. Time in a hospital would be extremely expensive. Even if you just get sick, missing work is detrimental when you live off the $2 you earn each day.
One problem I ran into in Honduras was the frequent loss of electricity. With the loss of electricity, the city lost its ability to power pumps for the running water. Again, this water is for bathing/washing and not drinking. But the company that purifies water for drinking gets its raw water from the city. So when electricity was lost, city water was lost as was purified drinking water. Thus, people have to stock up. Many people have large tanks on their roof for storing city water. And most people keep an extra 5-gallon jug in reserve for these occasions.
In the end, another example of something that costs more in the developing world than the developed world.