The Water Crisis: A Women’s Issue

2021-08-13

 |  Biodiversity/Conservation

Introduction to the water crisis: 

Freshwater is an essential, but very limited, resource across the globe. Only 2.5% of the Earth’s water is freshwater, while the other 97.5% is saline, including oceans and salt-contaminated groundwater. According to National Geographic, of the freshwater that does exist, around 69% is contained in glaciers, 30% takes the form of groundwater, and only the remaining 1% is readily available for human use. 

Globally, we are experiencing a water crisis. National Geographic has found that around 20% of the world’s population currently lives in water-scarce areas and 1.8 billion people do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. What’s more, these conditions are expected to worsen in the coming years due, in large part, to climate change and increased water consumption. The United Nations Institute for Water, Environment, and Health states: “Between now and 2050, water demands are expected to increase by 400% from manufacturing and 130% from household use.” Moreover, it is estimated that by 2050, 3.9 billion individuals (over 40% of the world’s population) will live in severely water-stressed river basins as a result of climate change. 

The water crisis has unique consequences for women. This article will explore the intersectionality of inadequate access to clean drinking water and discuss solutions that support women. 

Effects of the water crisis on women: 

The World Health Organization recommends that each individual have access to 20-50 liters of water per day. This average accounts for activities such as cooking, drinking, and washing. Acquiring this minimum amount would require each household member to collect between 44 and 110 pounds of water each day. However, in many countries, women bear the brunt of water collection duties. According to the United Nations: “Per week, women in Guinea collect water for 5.7 hours, compared to 2.3 hours for men; in Sierra Leone women spend 7.3 compared to 4.5 hours for men; and in Malawi, this figure is 9.1 compared to 1.1 hours.” 

As well as women carrying the physical burden of transporting households’ daily water supply, women are often expected to care for sick family members when poor-quality water is consumed. This time spent attending to their and their family members’ basic needs detracts from other activities including education and/or technical training for employment. 

Another prominent water-related women’s issue is the lack of basic sanitation. Based on data collected in 2016, 2.4 billion individuals around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation, and, in 2020, 6% of the world’s population still practiced open defecation. These conditions directly impact women’s education and safety. Her Turn is an organization that prioritizes the education and employment of women in Nepal. This organization found that “[…] 41% of girls who do not attend school when menstruating stay home because they do not have privacy for cleaning and washing at school.” In addition to improving overall well-being and decreasing the likelihood of being a victim of sexual assault, the Girl Effect Foundation has found that: “an additional year of primary school education boosts a girl’s future wages by 10-20 percent, while an additional year of secondary school adds to her income by 15-25 percent.” In areas that practice open defecation, increased incidence of violence against women has also been observed. Data shows that women are more likely to relieve themselves after dark, or early in the morning where open defecation is common, leaving them more vulnerable to violence, such as rape.

Lack of sufficient healthcare and sanitation also disproportionately harms women and newborns. The World Health Organization has found that almost 40% of health facilities in 54 low-income countries do not have reliable clean water. Water-borne illnesses can lead to malnutrition in mothers and cause widespread infections. In fact, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that: “Nearly 8,000 women in Tanzania die each year in or immediately after childbirth.” These deaths are preventable with the implementation of water management systems and adoption of consistent hygiene practices. 

To address this intersectional issue, The United Nations (UN) has developed several water-based projects to assist women in gaining both technical and directorial skills, and harnessing these skills to initiate new water projects. These projects can in turn generate income and bring about development opportunities. One such example of these water-based projects includes the Mother Baby-Friendly Health Facility Initiative (founded by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund), which provides a steady water supply to maternity wards, toilets, and handwashing facilities. In the municipality of ​​Bolgatanga (upper East region of Ghana), deaths associated with childbirth have decreased by 58% (from 19 deaths in 2017 to 8 in 2018) as a result of this initiative. 

Based on the UN’s findings, more equal representation in community water management benefits both women and families. Unfortunately, most women’s representation in water management has been isolated in more traditionally domestic realms, such as household water supply. Women are still largely excluded from sectors including irrigation and drainage. In this field, efficiency and sustainability of systems are often prioritized without consideration of intersecting social issues. 

How Can I Help? 

  • Regulate water consumption

There are many possible methods of mitigating the water crisis, proposed by scientists in the field of climate engineering or geoengineering. One common solution is riparian zones, which are sections of natural vegetation that can line rivers and estuaries. Grasslands and forests have the best absorption capability of any other landscape. Consequently, these living plants can filter, clean, and soak up rainfall in order to prevent catastrophic floods, which is currently a great risk in many areas. 

Global warming can also increase the amount of water that is evaporated into the atmosphere. To combat these dramatic changes, it is vital that large corporations take action to reduce their carbon footprint. Industries need to switch from fossil fuel-based energy to cleaner, renewable, and more sustainable energy sources. It is also beneficial for individuals to lessen the impact of climate change by growing fruits and vegetables independently (or buying fresh produce locally). Making this change can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere when produce is transported long distances.

  • Donate and learn

Kids International Development Society (or K.I.D.S.) was founded by Adrianne Dartnall and Rick Lennert in 2004. This nonprofit organization is based in Nanaimo, British Columbia and Adrianne and Rick travel to small communities in Southeast Asia. Focusing on areas that suffer due to high poverty and unemployment rates, as well as high transmission rates of communal diseases. This organization builds clean drinking water systems for rural communities, and provides access to education, training, and employment for women and girls by providing safe housing and instituting income generation programs. If you would like to support this organization, you can donate directly here, or host an event (such as a silent auction, a bake sale, or a garage sale) to fundraise. 

Water.org is a global nonprofit organization that aims to bring water and sanitation to the world. Water.org provides loans (called WaterCredits) that are provided by small banks to “[…] ensure ownership, and enable a family to afford the upfront costs of paying for the construction of a water connection or a toilet at home.” This organization accepts online donations through their website: Give Water – Donate Water & Sanitation Today | Water.org. They also encourage patrons and volunteers to organize fundraising events: Start A Water Fundraiser – Raise Money For Clean Water | Water.org.