Millions of women and children in the developing world spend untold hours daily, collecting water from distant, often polluted sources, then return to their villages carrying heavy water-filled containers.
Women in Africa and Asia often carry water on their heads weighing 20kg, the same as the average UK airport luggage allowance.
Surveys from 45 developing countries show that women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in the vast majority of households (76%).
In just one day, it is estimated that more than 152 million hours of women and girls’ time is consumed for the most basic of human needs — collecting water for domestic use.
It has been calculated that in South Africa alone, women collectively walk the equivalent distance of 16 times to the moon and back per day gathering water for families.
This is time not spent working at an income-generating job, caring for family members, or attending school.
The United Nations estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water; that’s the same as a whole year’s worth of labor by France’s entire workforce!
The economic value of this unpaid contribution is enormous: in India it is estimated that women fetching water spend 150 million work days per year, equivalent to a national loss of income of 10 billion Rupees.
Typical water carrying methods impose physical loading with potential to produce musculoskeletal disorders and related disability.
Medical research has documented cases of permanent damage to women’s health attributed to carrying water. Problems range from chronic fatigue, spinal and pelvic deformities, to effects on reproductive health such as spontaneous abortions.
In some parts of Africa, where women expend as much as 85% of their daily energy intake fetching water, the incidence of anaemia and other health problems are very high (SIDA, 1997).