SEATTLE, Washington — Water is a central part of life. For those in developed countries, it’s seen as a guarantee and is accessible with the pull of a lever. However, for those living in poverty, water is a rare and almost inaccessible resource. In fact, three in 10 people globally do not have guaranteed access to safe water, which roughly equates to more than 2 billion people worldwide. However, for every $1 invested in increasing water access and sanitation services, approximately $8 will be saved in time saved, productivity and health improvements. Moreover, by improving global access to safe, clean water and ending the water crisis, we can abolish global poverty, improving health, living standards and economies worldwide.
The Water Crisis
The Water Project states that in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 40 billion hours are lost each year in hauling water, specifically for women and children, since they are generally tasked to bring in water for their families.
Women and children travel miles from home to find the cleanest water sources, most of which are still inadequate, and then have to transport the heavy containers home. This process can take hours to complete. Children, specifically girls, often drop out of school to get water for their family as they have to haul water multiple times a day, which consumes their whole day. Moreover, most water sources are inadequate and often contaminated. Yet, most families in low-water resourced areas have no option but to settle for these potentially unsafe water sources because there are few water sources within walking distance.
By implementing local, safe water wells to these communities in need of essential water, people will have improved overall health and hygiene. Not to mention, children can go back to school and break the cycle of poverty.
How to Improve Access to Safe Water
The best way to improve access to safe water is to build local, reliable wells. Many organizations such as The Water Project focus their efforts on funding NGOs that travel and build wells in impoverished villages in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most NGOs use drilling rigs that dig 150 to 200 feet below and provide clean water at a low cost.
The wells are entirely sealed, ensuring that the water stays clean. NGOs also build hand-dug wells, but most are incredibly dangerous to construct, or they build deep wells that are cost-effective but are generally more expensive. However, any local well that produces safe water is better than walking miles for contaminated groundwater.
Impoverished people living in slums pay absurd amounts of money for water. In contrast, people living in the same area but wealthier neighborhoods with their own pipe system pay incredibly less per liter. In fact, disadvantaged households often spent up to 30% of their income on water. As such, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) focuses its eradicating poverty policies on sustainable efforts, such as building stand-pipes for multiple households to share and creating tariffs or water rebates in addition to rehabilitating wells.
Effects on Health
Lack of water access puts the poor and specifically women and children at severe health risks, such as malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and many more severe health problems. Inadequate water access is particularly damaging to children as their immune systems are still developing. Moreover, in Sub-Saharan Africa, students lose approximately 443 million school days each year due to water-related illnesses. Additionally, 88% of diarrheal-related deaths globally are caused by a combination of unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation.
Diarrheal diseases are also the second leading cause of death in children 5 and under, and kills more children than measles and malaria combined.
By implementing an immediate increase in water access, global mortality rates could be reduced by 6.3%. Improving water access would also promote sanitation and better quality of life as people would be able to practice good hygiene and drink adequate amounts of water regularly. Solving the water crisis and promoting equal access to water would also help promote sustainable ecosystems and local farming, which would help combat malnutrition and hunger. As access to water increases, mortality will decrease. This would also allow families to break out of poverty as they don’t have to spend all of their time either recovering from diseases or hauling water.
Effects on Gender Equality and Education
Providing equal access to water would directly impact gender equality efforts in countries worldwide as women and particularly young girls wouldn’t be spending all day hauling water anymore. Young girls could go back to school, breaking the cycle of poverty and completing their education while improving general equality. Families could farm easily with local water, providing children with a healthy diet and lifestyle, which improves the whole family’s quality of life.
By improving gender equality, countries’ economic development would jumpstart as education becomes universal and the health benefits help to build local wells. Building local wells would also enhance young girls’ and women’s mental health as they provide water for their family’s survival, which places lots of responsibility and stress on individuals.
Additionally, home environments would become less stressful as families are given more stability, which would also help women and young girls grow into their own rather than focus their day-to-day activity on hauling in water. As health conditions improve due to water access, women will start to have fewer children as they know their children will survive in these improved conditions. This would lead to the country’s development forward as overall death rates fall, particularly for children and infants. Also, women would be able to start pursuing their own careers and not fear giving birth amid unsanitary conditions.
Ending the Water Crisis and Global Poverty
In addition to the overall improvement of improvised communities’ quality of life, increasing water access would help grow the economy as children go back to school and adults have the stability to pursue entrepreneurship or open small businesses, breaking the cycle of poverty. Improving developing countries’ water and sanitation access betters communities’ living standards, health, and education. As a result, these countries can grow and develop, providing a return on foreign investments and strengthen the global economy. To achieve all these local, national and international benefits, we must first end the global water crisis.