March 6, 2012

A Shorter Walk to Water Saves Children’s Lives

By Barbara Goldberg

We thank Wells Bring Hope supporter, Scott Fischler, for bringing this to our attention.  A new study by Stanford researchers published by the journal Environmental Science and Technology shows that decreasing the amount of time families must walk to obtain clean water can help save the lives of young children. In sub-Saharan Africa, where Wells Bring Hope works, 84% of the people do not have access to clean water. The Stanford study analyzed data from 26 African countries, where it is estimated that some 40 billion hours of labor each year are spent hauling water, a responsibility often borne by women and children. The Stanford study is the first quantitative analysis of the relationship between the time devoted to fetching water and health outcomes. 

“The time that women devote to water fetching is time that can’t be used for child care, food preparation, cleaning the household environment, or generating income,” explained Amy Pickering, lead author of the study and post-doctoral fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “All of these factors can have direct influence on the health of children.”
The study found that cutting the walking time to a water source by just 15 minutes can reduce under-five mortality of children by 11%, and slash the prevalence of nutrition-depleting diarrhea by 41%. 

In Niger, the many women we’ve talked to say that their work time is reduced by half when they no longer have to spend time walking many miles to get water.  Therefore it is natural that when women have this new-found time, they can take better care of their children and can use that time to prepare better food.  The elimination of hours spent walking to get water improves the physical health of the mother, enabling her more able to address the needs of her children.  It also reduces the overall stress level that women experience when they are rushing to get water. 

We are very pleased to see that there is now a quantitative study that documents the health benefits to children when there is a reduction in the time that it takes for women to get water. 


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