Could you live on 30 litres of water a day?

by Oxfam Canada | May 10, 2013
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by Melissa Ekdom-Delorme

Saturday evening I spent reconfiguring my toilet to a 4L flush and filling small bottles and jugs of water carefully portioned for drinking and cleaning. I was preparing for our Sunday challenge to live on 30 litres of water for a day.

Thirty litres is the amount of water available per person per day at Syrian refugee camp Za’atari in Jordan. Oxfam is providing water tanks, shower, toilet and laundry blocks at the camp where more than 100,000 Syrians have taken refuge from conflict.

I estimated how my husband, Michael, and our daughter and I could ration 30 litres: no more than four flushes, no shower, no laundry, and no dishwasher. We had big backyard plans for the warm day ahead. But knowing how two-year-old Lily loves to dig in the dirt, how sweaty we’d get after hours in the sun, the potty training … suddenly I wasn’t so keen!

Sunday breakfast:
750mL already gone. A precious amount is spent mopping up Lily’s oatmeal mess. We awkwardly brush our teeth, dribbling water from a bottle, and head outside to enjoy the sun.

A drink of water is in order and a serious scrubbing of hands! My own hands are filthy. The basin water quickly turns brown after an initial rinse. Lily wonders why I’m pouring water from a measuring cup. “We’re trying to be extra careful with our water today, Lily – some people aren’t as lucky as we are; not everyone can turn on a tap and have nice clean water pouring right into their hands.”

Nap time:
When I refill our water bottles, I see we’ve already doubled my initial estimates. On any other day I would indulge in a refreshing mid-day shower; instead I gratefully wipe my face and neck with a wet cloth.Outdoors for the evening:
We get dirty (again). I cringe to think how much water we’ll need (again). We’ve already used 12L in three flushes. On the bright side, potty training is working! Best of all, we’re getting closer to a new day without a water limit.Bath time:
A bath is out of the question. Instead, there are tickles and giggles, a foot soak. I rediscover Lily’s little feet and fingers, washing them with care. As I empty the bowl of water, I think of the luxurious position I am in. I had spent a day pretending we only had 30L, but for many families –many of those in the Syria crisis now - 30L a day is a luxury!Night time:
I had prioritized our water as best I could: consumption, cleaning and basic hygiene. I left out showers, laundry and dishes. It took energy to protect our water use throughout the day. It was draining to rely on jugs of water, with constant awareness of their imminent emptiness. All I wanted to do was turn on and keep the taps flowing!

I think of all the women, men, boys and girls fleeing their homes for safety.  I think of the burden of fear and uncertainty that rests on their shoulders. In those crises, Oxfam helps save lives and ensure dignity by providing basic assistance like access to clean water. But sometimes it’s a struggle to get even 30L of water to those who need it most.

You can help keep the taps flowing for Syrian refugees.


Try the 30L challenge yourself and spread the word to raise awareness and funds.

Melissa Ekdom-Delorme works in Oxfam Canada’s humanitarian unit.




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