Water poverty brings many problems – children fetch water instead of attending school, women have to spend hours each day in the back-breaking work of carrying water, and thousands suffer from fatal or debilitating water-borne disease.
Beating water poverty needs, as well as clean water, latrines and hygiene education. Clean water isn’t enough if it’s made dirty because of a lack of toilets, and use of toilets must be encouraged by hygiene education to get communities to change the habits of generations.
Important aspects of water poverty
In many areas of Africa, water borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhoid are on the increase, often caused by raw sewage flowing directly into rivers and lakes which are then used as water sources.
Today diarrhoea is the largest killer of children in the developing world, claiming 4000 children a day – way ahead of more publicised diseases such as AIDS and malaria.
Carrying the water
Imagine having to get up at 5am to go and fetch the family’s morning water. If your local waterhole has dried up, you may need to walk an hour or two to the next one.
There you wait with hundreds of others to fill your container with brown muddy water. You probably use a 5 gallon container which will weigh 20kg once full – the same as a large heavy suitcase – which you carry on your head.
You will need to do this at least twice a day. For many women and children fetching water dominates the day, pushing aside all other activities, including school.
Economic impact of wasted time
Dirty water undermines kids’ education as well as their health; time spent carrying water is time missed from school lessons.
Many women spend so much of their day carrying water that they have no time for the cash-generating business activities, like handicrafts, which can help lift families out of total poverty. Water poverty has been estimated to reduce GDP of affected countries by over 5%, greater than the entire aid flow to these countries.
“An estimated 42,000 people die every week from diseases related to low water quality and an absence of adequate sanitation. This situation is unacceptable.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
What does water poverty look like?
The problems of water poverty are dramatically illustrated in these recommended videos:
World Water Day
An amazing video from charity:water, produced for a recent World Water Day.
Walking For Water
Jennifer Connelly walks to Central Park to get dirty water for her family as millions of mothers in Africa do every day.
Through a Child’s Eye
Abdullahi, a 14 year old boy in North Eastern Kenya, struggles to save his family after their livelihood is lost due to a severe drought.