Water isn’t just crucial for life, it’s fundamental to increasing opportunities for women and girls in rural areas across the globe. A new Stanford study reveals how bringing piped water closer to remote households in Zambia dramatically improves the lives of women and girls, while also improving economic opportunities, food security and well-being for entire households. The research, recently published in Social Science & Medicine, could spur governments and NGOs to more carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of piped water as an alternative to less accessible communal water sources.
“Switching from the village borehole to piped supply saved almost 200 hours of fetching time per year for a typical household,” said study senior author Jenna Davis, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and director of Stanford’s Program on Water, Health and Development. “This is a substantial benefit, most of which accrued to women and girls.”
Globally, about 844 million people live without safe, accessible water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, hygiene and food production – the linchpin of healthy, prosperous communities. Just 12 percent of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa has water piped to their home. Instead, families collect water from distant, shared sources, with women and girls overwhelmingly responsible for performing the time-consuming and arduous chore of carrying containers that average about 40 pounds each. Dedicating a large chunk of their day to water fetching takes time away from activities such as childcare, housework, hygiene, outside employment, education and leisure.
“Addressing this problem provides the time and water for women and girls to invest in their household’s health and economic development, in whatever way they see fit,” said lead author James Winter, who recently defended his PhD in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford.
Over the past several decades, national governments and international aid groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars installing basic water sources, such as wells and handpumps. However, many of these sources are still far from users’ homes, resulting in long journeys to fetch water. Previous studies have shown water fetching can harm both mental and physical well-being, while piped water at home can increase water for hygiene and livelihoods, improve food production and decrease infectious disease prevalence.
Yet despite this finding, piped water installations in sub-Saharan Africa have increased by a mere 2 percentage points since 2007. Investing resources into high-quality piped water sources that are dramatically closer to rural households could thus be a more effective route to providing safe, accessible and affordable drinking water for all.
For their study, the researchers examined less frequently measured aspects of well-being – including time savings, economic opportunity and nutritional security – that can be gained through…