Life in Liberia: Living without Running Water

In Liberia, outside of the capital city, Monrovia, most people do not have running water – including the Peace Corps volunteers! Here’s how I live without running water in my community….

Most communities usually have either a pump or a well, or both. At my site, I have a well right outside my house that all the surrounding houses use. Peace Corps gave me a big blue barrel to hold water and one full barrel lasts a couple of weeks. My neighbors are quick to help me fill it — if they see me drawing water from the well myself, they rush to come to my aide and don’t usually let me do it myself! Often the kids will work together, with one pulling up the water from the well and one or two more hauling the buckets inside to put in the barrel. I definitely appreciate the help–it takes a lot of effort to draw water and I’d be worn out after just a few buckets!

Well water is typically not as clean as pump water, but the pump in my community is about a quarter of a mile away. Many of my neighbors use well water for bathing, washing clothes and dishes, and cooking but will make a trip to the pump each day for their drinking water.

For me, the well water is fine for drinking because I have to filter my water before drinking it either way, using a water filter that Peace Corps gave when I moved in. As an American, my body is not used to the bacteria in the water here so accidentally drinking it could make me sick. After filtering the water which gets rid of the bacteria in it, another precaution that you can take is to put a couple drops of bleach in it and waiting 20 minutes for it to dissolve, which will kill any viruses as well (while this is recommended, you may be fine without this step!).

One alternative to filtering water is to drink “bag water.” Here in Liberia, they sell sealed bags of safe drinking water. Usually you can find cold bag water, half a liter for only 5 Liberian dollars (LD), less than a nickel! For me, I usually drink filtered water at home but when I’m out and about or when it’s really hot, I’ll buy some nice cold bag water.


When it comes to cooking, as long as I boil the well water first it’s fine to cook with. But I always use filtered water when I’m not boiling it or if I’m cleaning fruits or vegetables from the market.

Besides drinking water, obviously you need water in the bathroom. In my house, I have a bathroom with a toilet and a bath area, but no running water. So I have to “bucket flush” or pour water down into the toilet to flush it. It takes some practice to make sure it flushes–it takes a certain twist of your wrist when you pour the water at just the right speed!

No running water also means no shower, so I take bucket baths. I use a bucket of water along with a cup to pour the water on myself to bathe. There’s a bathtub sized area in the bathroom that has a drain where I bathe so the water doesn’t splash everywhere. It doesn’t take too many bucket baths to figure out just how much water you need to take a bath. It’s crazy how little water I use compared to taking a shower!


While I have a bathroom in my house, most of the people in my town don’t have indoor bathrooms. They have outhouses and bathing areas set up in their yards, that are often shared by several households.

Another important thing we need water for is doing laundry! To wash clothes, we have a large wash bucket, a wash board and several other buckets of water. Washing clothes by hand on a washboard is no small thing – it’s hard work! Lucky for me, I have my friend, Patience, at my site who helps me wash every week. We have to scrub all of the clothes with soap in the big wash tub and on the washboard. Then once we’ve scrubbed them, we wring out the water and soap as good as we can and then put them in another bucket of water to rinse them. Finally, we’ll wring them out and hang them on a clothes line to dry. All of this takes time and technique so I’m glad to have Patience to help me–and to always coach me when I’m doing something wrong! While it takes a few hours each week to wash, it’s become a time I look forward to–while we wash, it’s also a time for Patience and I to hang out and catch up on each other’s weeks.

Patience and me showing Kathryn how to do wash

With everything that I need water for, I use a bucket or two of water a day and all of that has to be carried into my house! Anytime there’s a heavy rain storm, I put my buckets out to catch rain water falling from the roof. During rainy season (April to November), I can manage to save many trips to the well this way!


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