3 weeks ago
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
This is part of a series called 'Gettin' By', which looks at what people in Monrovia are doing to make money in a society with a reported 85% unemployment. Click here for more background on the series and the job situation here.
Profession: Moving Water
Location: Constantly on the Move
How it works: As has been mentioned before, running water in Monrovia barely exists. Expat restaurants have it. Hotels got it. Compounds usually can supply. Even these often run off private reserve tanks: no functioning infrastructure of ‘pipe to tap’ really happens.
For the rest of the 1 million people living in Monrovia, running water does not, and likely will not, exist – at least not for a while.
Does it go without saying that everyone needs water?
Though there have been major water shortages as of late on Bushrod Island, a large community often described as a slum, water can be found throughout the city. There are handpump wells in virtually every community, with a slough of children filling up various jugs for their families. There are also more regulated places that pump out well water for some money (some even with mild filtration). And that’s where the water carriers come in.
Each cart – as pictured above – can fit up to 40 jugs (or ‘jerries’) of water. Each jerry holds a little less than 20 L of water. That is a lot of weight (looking at the numbers, this seems impossible: that’s roughly 1600 pounds) but I often count the jerries in the cart of the dude bringing water to my house, and when you fill the jerries, they are 5 US gallons, which is just under 20 L).
To fill these at the fill stations, carriers are charged ‘2 fa 5’: $ 5 LD (7 US cents) buys you two jerries. I believe it is also possible to get free water from community pumps, but its uncommon because to a) its largely discouraged take so much water at community pumps and b) its very time consuming.
So you take the hit. Most water comes ‘from across’. This means carriers must go across New Bridge to fill up, and then come back into town fully loaded. Prices are entirely reflective of distance traveled.
Living directly across the bridge, it costs $ 10 LD per jerry (just under 15 US cents). Prices go up exponentially after this, as, just upon crossing the bridge, the slope of the hill goes up exponentially. The most I have heard of jerries going for in town is $ 25 LD, but recent water shortages jacked the price up on Bushrod. Ultimately, you are looking at a maximum bump-up factor of 10-fold your investment on the water, but busting ass – largely negotiating 1000 pounds of water through traffic, potholes and the tricky topography of downtown Monrovia.
Basically, the more difficult the place is to get to, the more the price is. And, the more difficult the place is, the less jerries get placed in carts, and the longer the turnaround times.
From what I can tell, the price is steered so that the 3 – 4 carters needed to lug the water around can each earn about $ 5 / day. As usual, there are people who carve out a clever niche for themselves. For example, they have fixed clients where they will take full or half loads to at certain times for a flat rate. And some who need water in specific volumes at specific times will pay inflated rates for it.
Point of Comparison: A 1.5 L bottle of mineral water costs $ 1 US in stores, $ 2 in most restaurants
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
This blog post is part of a series called 'Gettin' by' that looks at the micro-economy of Liberia, that - in lieu of a formal job market - allows people to get food on the table. Please read this for explanation
Profession: Water Vendor
Location: Fixed stands with large coolers or mobile with small coolers on head
How it works: First of all, why it works. Like most of the world, clean drinking water is no guarantee. And Liberia – where running water is almost non-existent (most comes from hand-pump wells, or from guys who cart water around in jugs, of which you can expect a future post) – this is no exception.
So, to cater to a population with not a lot of money, not much clean drinking water, almost no personal refrigeration, and a perpetually hot sun beating down on you, 1/2 liter bags of purified water are made available for the equivalent of 7 cents.
Vendors buy 30-bag bags of water bags at your bulk wholesalers for just less than $ 1 US, or 60 - 65 Liberian Dollars (LD). This means the buyer pays just over $ 2 LD per bag. Which means that $ 3 LD is theoretically up for grabs with every sale.
But another cost exists: cooling.
One option is that you have your own cooling. Either you have access to a fridge (which means you have access to a generator) or you buy ice. The generator option can have a huge range of costs, depending on the amount of people sharing the generator and/or fridge. Ice sells for about 40 – 60 LD per block, and a typical cooler as pictured above needs about 2 - 3 blocks of ice to keep things frigid throughout the day, provided you supply the requisite blanket insulation
This eats into the profit margins, but is necessary.
Successful stationary sellers in a decent location can sell 3 - 5 ‘bag-o-bags’ in a day, or 90 - 150 bags. After the cooling factor, it means that 4 - 7 bucks (USD) is a pretty good day, though some boast higher net profits.
Sellers that roam the streets – almost always children, sometimes as young as 5 or 6, and rarely older than 16 – buy off the larger coolers in very small increments: 3 bags for $ 10 LD, 10 bags for $ 30, or other such arrangements. They fill up their various pieces of detritus that serve as carriers – usually chunks of Styrofoam with a piece of cloth over top - and tote them around on neighbourhood circuits to the nasal cry of…
“Coollllllllllld Watttah - dehn .…Ice Colllld mineralllll...” – you have to hear it to really get it, I s'pose.
For the kids, they are usually just making some extra change. Either they work after class to help their parents pay school fees, help pitch in to destitute families or they are being blatantly exploited by incompetent, alcoholic and/or lazy parents (or 'guardians') who would prefer to sit at home all day, and get extra income. Earning a dollar after costs is a pretty good day for a lot of the small kids selling, though those who hustle all day can earn ‘small more.’
Dangers and variables: Extreme boredom universally grips the stationary stalls. Kids can get robbed easily, and reports of child sellers being lured into dangerous or exploitative situations are common, but seldom proven.
You MUST know the patented call. It really is amazing how uniform the “Cold Waattttah” tone and pitch really is. It begs yet another kick at the nature/nurture can, but not on this blog. At least not now.
Many stationary vendors – as the one pictured above – sell juice or pop along with the staple of water, adding a few extra dollars a day.