By: Sarah Hudson
In rural Africa, it is the women’s job to gather the water for the household. These women often walk ten miles or more every day to fetch water and in the dry season it is not uncommon for women to walk twice this distance.
The water wells at the end of these journeys are “often little more than waterholes dug out deeper and deeper as the dry season progresses”. The water wells can be very difficult to reach, with steep sides, which sometimes can collapse and the paths to these wells are narrow and slippery and often result in death or serious injury.
I am a fortunate woman by this standard…I can walk into any market at any time of the day or night and pick up a bottle of water from the vast variety in front of me. Not only am I able to drink the essential amount of water my body needs but I am also being filled with electrolytes, zinc, antioxidants and various other ingredients that our lavish supermarkets, gas stations and restaurants have to offer. It is not this simple for women in most developing countries. It is actually a painful, life-threatening and heartbreaking experience when it comes to the simple issue of water.
As well as travelling such long distances, women often have to wait their turn to collect the water. Waiting times can be up to six hours which makes the journey even more treacherous and takes away time from their families. During the dry season, some traditional sources almost dry out for several months each year and it can take up to an hour for one woman to fill her bucket as she waits for the water to slowly filter through the ground. To avoid such long waits many women get up in the middle of the night to get to the water source when there is no line to wait in.
There are also many health risks that these women and their families endure due to the water itself and the process in collecting the water. Most of the time the water is filthy and filled with trash, flies and sometimes feces. Also, animals often drink at the same source. The contaminated water often causes illnesses such as diarrhea and dysentery, which are responsible worldwide for the deaths of thousands of children under the age of five every day. Also, the water containers that the women bring with them usually hold about 20 liters of water, which weigh 20kg. Constantly carrying such heavy weights have severe health implications particularly on the head, back or hips. Backache and joint pains are extremely common, and in some cases curved spines and pelvic deformities can result, creating complications in childbirth. Pregnant women sometimes keep on carrying water until the day they give birth. (see: http://vimeo.com/15336764)
Some shocking statistics on this issue (source http://wateraid.org):
-884 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. This is roughly one in eight of the world’s population.
-2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation; this is almost two fifths of the world’s population.
-1.4 million children die every year from diarrhea caused by unclean water and poor sanitation – 4,000 child deaths a day or one child every 20 seconds. This equates to 160 infant school classrooms lost every single day to an entirely preventable public health crisis.
-7 out of 10 people without sanitation live in rural areas.
-Diarrhea kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
-Children living in households with no toilet are twice as likely to get diarrhea as those with a toilet.
-Every year, around 60 million children in the developing world are born into households without access to sanitation.
-One gram of human feces can contain 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, 100 parasite eggs.
-The average person in the developing world uses 10 liters of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking.
-The average European uses 200 liters of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking. North Americans use 400 liters.
-On current trends over the next 20 years humans will use 40% more water than they do now.
-Over the past 10 years, aid to health and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased by nearly 500%, while aid to water and sanitation has increased by only 79%.
Recently the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles had an exhibit highlighting water and the world called “Water: Our Thirsty World. Click through the photographs here: http://www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org/exhibitions/water_exhibit.asp. The exhibit “features the work of award-winning photographers looking at our most precious resource from environmental, social, political and cultural perspectives.”
Click through to see how important a role water plays around the world.
Why can’t we, as a civilized globe, come together with all the plentiful resources we have, and make basic clean water accessible to all people? While researching this piece, I came upon many wonderful organizations that are doing their best to help and eventually eliminate this persistent issue. Please check out the following websites and organizations: