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Water and Poverty: How Access to Safe Water Reduces Poverty

https://lifewater.org/blog/water-poverty/

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“Water and poverty are inextricably linked. Lack of safe water and poverty are mutually reinforcing; access to consistent sources of clean water is crucial to poverty reduction.”

As we prepare to launch our crowdfunding campaign to ship 200 Hippo Rollers to Haiti, we discovered an informative article by Lifewater.org which explains how improved access to safe water reduces poverty.

The article includes references to valuable resources with facts and more in-depth information about the relationship between water and poverty.

Poverty

When we talk about poverty, we primarily refer to the economically disadvantaged groups of people across wide swaths of the globe, mainly in Africa and Asia, that survive on subsistence farming or incomes of less than $2 per day. There were 2.4 billion people living in this situation in 2010.

The global rate of extreme poverty, defined as the percentage of those living on less than $1.25 per day, was halved between 1990 and 2010. [1]

Access to water

In that same twenty-year period, the global proportion of people living without access to clean water was halved as well, with 2.3 billion people gaining access to improved drinking water between 1990 and 2012. [2]

Currently, 748 million people live without access to safe water and 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation. [3]

Employment

For those who live without safe water, adequate sanitation, and effective hygiene practices, water-borne disease is a constant threat to health, keeping people out of the work force and in poverty. Over 40 billion productive hours are lost each year to fetching water in sub-Saharan Africa. [4]

About half of the developing world’s hospital beds are occupied by people with water-related illness. [5]

Education

Water and poverty are linked in education; preventable, water-borne disease keep children out of school. An estimated 443 million school days are lost each year from water-related illness. [6]

In many cases, children are too sick with diarrhea and other water-borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, or dysentery to go to school or must care for sick family members instead of going to class.

Children also must help their families retrieve safe water from long distances if it is not available nearby.

When the school does not have sanitation facilities, even a simple latrine, children must defecate in the open or miss class while they find someplace to go to the bathroom. This not only makes them miss class, it facilitates the further spread of disease.

Governance

When there is no safe water and sanitation, people are more vulnerable to powerful or wealthy individuals and groups that threaten their security and resources.

On the other hand when the community members are equipped and empowered to help themselves get access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene often lead to more productive collaboration in other areas, like education, ecological stewardship, and small business. Community achievement is contagious and transformative.

Women

Women bear the heaviest burden when there is no safe water and sanitation. In most places that lack these resources, women and children are responsible for retrieving water for their families, often spending several hours each day traveling and waiting at a water point. This often puts them at risk of assault and injury. The women and girls often stay home from work and school to care for family members that are sick with water-related diseases. They do most of the cooking and cleaning for the family.

The cycle of water and poverty continue where women must endure these experiences, as they are often excluded from productive or income-earning labor. Where women have access to a nearby source of clean drinking water, a toilet or latrine, and knowledge about good hygiene practices like handwashing, they and their families thrive. They can use the time saved to work in home-based businesses and agriculture as well as employment outside the home. More girls can attend school, and for longer. They can break the cycle of poverty and water-borne disease.

Disaster

Communities affected by disaster, either natural or man-made, are more resilient if they have access to safe water and sanitation. Communities with safe water have healthier members, whose bodies are more resistant to illnesses that come with disaster and displacement.

When clean drinking water, latrines or toilets, and good hygiene practices are present, people can recover from disaster more quickly.

Invest in safe water

Investment in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) promises one of the highest rates of return of any development relating to water and poverty. [7]

A $1 investment in WASH yields $3-$34 in economic return. [8] but lack of WASH can cost up to 5% of a country’s GDP. [9]

“In fact, no single intervention is more likely to have a significant impact on global poverty than the provision of safe water.” [11]

1.“Poverty Overview,” World Bank, last updated Apr 7, 2014, http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview.

2. WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: 2014 Update (Geneva: WHO Press, 2014), 12.

3. WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: 2014 Update (Geneva: WHO Press, 2014), 8.

4. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 2006, Beyond Scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 47, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-2006.

5. United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Human Development Report 2006, Beyond Scarcity: power poverty and the global water crisis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 45, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-2006.

6. United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Human Development Report 2006, Beyond Scarcity: power poverty and the global water crisis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 45, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-report-2006.

7. In 2012, development economists ranked getting clean water to rural villages as number one in greatest estimated impact among strategies to fight global poverty. Bruce Wydick, “Cost-Effective Compassion,” Christianity Today, February 2012, 24.

8. Schuster-Wallace et al., Safe Water as the Key to Global Health, United Nations University (UNU-INWEH) (2008), 6, available at http://inweh.unu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SafeWater_Web_version.pdf. When operation and maintenance costs are included, a more conservative estimate is $2-$5.50 in return (globally) for water and sanitation investments, respectively. Guy Hutton, Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage (WHO: 2012), available at http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2012/globalcosts.pdf.

9. UN Water, The UN World Water Development Report 3: Water in a Changing World (UN Water: 2009), 8, available at http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/water/wwap/wwdr/wwdr3-2009.

11. Schuster-Wallace et al., Safe Water as the Key to Global Health, United Nations University (UNU-INWEH) (2008), 8, available at http://inweh.unu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SafeWater_Web_version.pdf.