by Amanda Silver-Westrick
Imagine if, here in the United States, all of the water pipes in your house
disappeared one day. Now imagine that the only way to get water for the
household was to make a daily two-hour trek on foot to the closest river. Your
daughters, your mother, and your sisters were suddenly responsible for this task,
and you helplessly watched them walk away in the mornings with empty buckets.
Your female family members would start to develop health problems from the
walk itself, including neck and shoulder pain from carrying heavy containers
of water. When in dire need of water, you might have to send your young
daughter to the river alone, and she might encounter snakes, wild dogs, or other
dangerous animals. Sexual predators might also frequent these paths, knowing
that young women pass by every day. And as you helplessly watch the females of
your family walk home from their long journey laden with the heavy weight of their
sloshing buckets, you would feel the pain of knowing you had no choice but to send
them out tomorrow and every day after that.
This nightmare is a daily reality in most of rural Africa. The search for clean water
is all-consuming and arduous, and mostly unsuccessful. Once the women reach
Africa’s rivers and lakes, they often have no choice but to fill their buckets with
brown, murky water, teeming with parasites and bacteria like schistosomiasis
and cholera. Development projects that bring clean, accessible water to African
villages eradicate more than just water-borne illnesses. They also help to keep
local women safe and healthy.