The world water crisis stands out as one of the most prominent international issues of the world today, affecting developed and developing countries alike. In developed countries, one of the larger impacts of lacking water is on agriculture, leading to a combination of increasing prices and decreasing employment. In developing nations, however, there is a significant lack of clean drinking water that not only leads to disease, but also to the death of a child every 21 seconds, which is over 4,000 children every day. According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation, around 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is contaminated, and based on a UN study, “even more drink water delivered through a system without adequate protection against sanitary hazards.” However, the world water crisis is not limited to health matters. Throughout Africa and parts of Southern Asia, lack of clean drinking water causes the continued disjuncture between male and female well-being.
To begin with, water—even when unsanitary—is not readily available to every community. In urban and suburban areas, like suburban Uganda, people depend on broken water pipes to access free, clean water. Their other option is, if geographically possible, to collect unsanitary water from a nearby stream because they cannot afford to pay for clean water (Water.org). In most rural throughout Africa, women and children must walk, on average, 6 kilometers every day to fetch water. They then carry around 20 liters back to their village, which wears on their necks and backs. In Malawi, women spend nine times as many hours as men do fetching water; girls spend three times as many (UN Women Watch). This time-consuming process often prevents those women and girls from working a paying job or attending school, whereas men and boys have more time to accomplish both tasks. As a result, the women in African rural communities end up, between gathering water and performing household tasks, working unpaid for twice the amount of time that the men work for a salary.
Furthermore, the need to fetch water for their family confines women in Central Africa to daily, unpaid labor and prevents them from receiving an education, making it so that there is little that women can do to escape their circumstances and lead a better life. It becomes extremely difficult for women to advance in the work force or in government, creating a cyclic effect that reinforces women’s role in society and furthering the divide between male and female well-being.
The most apparent solution to this situation is the implementation of water services like building a well for the community. Wells of Life, The Water Project, Water Wells for Africa, and The African Well Fund are a few of the international organizations that work to provide these services. Having access to a well in a rural community not only gives the people access to clean drinking water, but also significantly shortens the distance that women need to walk in order to fetch it. This would give them more time in their day to get an education and advance in the work force.
At the same time, the world water situation contributes to the political inequality, if not the near subjugation, of women in Central Africa and Southern Asia. According to the United Nations publication “Women and Water: 2000 and beyond,” women are the most involved in making decisions for their families regarding water sanitation. However, the organizations responsible for the planning and management of water and sanitation systems (whether they be governmental or privately owned) rarely allow women to be involved. This continues despite the fact that a United Nations-sponsored survey proved that water projects planned and managed by women are more likely to succeed than those conducted solely by men. This is exemplified in another UN study, which conducted research about the impact of water services on communities in east Nepal. In the study, women whose communities received improved water services experienced increased collection time when the services were placed near the roadsides. Women chose to walk to the wells, collect the water, return home, and repeat this process several times a day during menstruation, due to the shame of being seen cleaning their soiled clothes by males. This type of situation did not occur in areas where women were involved in planning: water services were instead placed in more private locations so women felt comfortable cleaning their laundry and gathering water at the same time. Thus, women should be involved when planning the implementation of water services for their communities.
Ultimately, the world water crisis significantly impacts the women throughout Africa and Southern Asia politically by causing a continued disjuncture between men and women’s well-being. The first step to alleviating the symptoms of the water crisis, allowing women to overcome the political issues that result from a lack of drinking water, is continuing to develop water services for countries in need. There are many organizations dedicated to building wells that give people access to clean groundwater below the surface, and supporting these organizations can hopefully have a real difference in the water crisis in the future. Until women and girls in impacted nations no longer spend most of their day fetching water, the cycle of women’s inferiority in the work force will continue.