Africa, the water's weight places on women’s shoulders

More than 75 percent of the sub-Saharan African population travels long distances to collect clean water for daily use, carrying out of the sources to their homes. Much of this task rests on the shoulders of 14 million women and 3 million girls, mostly teenagers, forced to make daily trips of at least half an hour.

Women in Uganda carrying water from a shallow well in plastic jerricans Photo from website waterjournalistsafrica.com

This is shown by a new joint study published on PLoS ONE and led by researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University and Korea University in Seoul.

The three scholars to carry out research examined the situation in 24 sub-Saharan Africa countries, using a series of data compiled by the World Bank, UNICEF and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Specifically, women mainly operate water transport. It was found that in all 24 countries covered by the study. A very strenuous activity but essential to avoid the use of dirty or contaminated water, the consumption of which is linked, directly or indirectly, to 80% of disease in the region that have fatal consequences, especially for children.

The analysis of the three researchers noted that a full container of water typically weighs between 40 and 55 pounds. Most of the women have a reduced physical capacity than men to carry heavy loads. The effort consumes the already limited energy and can cause various health problems, such as spinal pain or premature arthritis caused by pressure on the joints mostly stressed during the transport.

In addition, it is shown that long journeys, as well as causing considerable physical stress, expose women and girls to serious risks such as being sexually abused.

The gender imbalance also covers minors used for this purpose: 62% of girls compared to 38% of males, while the health of young children is even more at risk because of exposure to contaminated or shortages water.

The girls are forced to look for water to remain in the street until late at night or often to get up before four in the morning. This increases their vulnerability and contributes to the increase in teenage pregnancies and child labor age.

UNICEF identifies a task so difficult one of the main reasons why children, especially girls from poor families, drop out of school. In this respect, a UN Agency report on gender and water collection, explains that in Tanzania there was a 12% increase in school attendance in areas where water was available in less than 15 minutes’ walking, than when the distance is doubled.

Hence, the report highlights the importance of building wells to reduce the route from water sources, allowing many women and girls have the time to work, go to school or conducting any other activities.

According to the study, the situation will be made even more critical by the increased demand for water that will expand because of world population growth, which according to the United Nations will exceed nine billion by 2050.

Another factor that will affect in a very negative way is determined by climate change, which the Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly exposed. A phenomenon that generates extreme events such as droughts become more frequent and severe in southern Africa, which in combination with El Nino natural phenomenon that warms the currents of the tropical Pacific, recording heavy impact on agriculture production and the economies.

The conclusions of the study believe that to solve problem is essential to address gender inequality and recognize the unpaid work that women play in the world.

In almost all studies about this subject, the size of the gender inequality is total missing, and this is very important monitoring in activities such as the water collection in Africa.

Very relevant in this regard is the example of Malawi, that most of the studies on water supply in Africa pose a privileged status determined by the fact that 85 percent of the population has access to improved sources of drinking water. But, if you take into account the collection of water in terms of gender inequality, evaluation of the progress made by the small landlocked country is not at all in line with that overall.

For every 18 women in Malawi collect water for their families, there is only one man engaged in the same routine activities, and gender inequality is prevalent among children, a girl-boy ratio of 10 to 1.

Ultimately, more than one million Malawian women are forced to spend more than thirty minutes of their day to finding the vital liquid. Exactly the same situation that exists in Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Niger and Nigeria.

@afrofocus

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