Women and Safe Water – The Ripple Effect
April 4, 2011
Senior Vice President and Chief Liaison Officer, Population Services International
Women in most of the developing world have the primary responsibility for managing their household’s water supply. Unfortunately, that is not always their choice. Too often, where water is scarce, women are the ones forced to fetch it -- often traveling long distances on foot, sometimes two or three times a day.
As the primary person responsible for her family’s water supply, a woman gains influence over her family and community. She becomes responsible not only for her family’s water, but also for their health. Research shows that including women in public health projects designed to improve water and sanitation significantly and positively impacts the projects’ long term results. Thus, women in the developing world are the key to resolving global water and sanitation health challenges.
Take Adama Yakuba in Nigeria, for example. She, like the other women in her rural village, would fetch water for her family from a nearby stream. Her kids often became ill after drinking it, so she knew the water wasn’t clean or safe. But, she didn’t know what to do about it. Despite her best efforts to keep her kids healthy, her four year old daughter died due to a particularly severe case of diarrheal disease.
Each year, nearly two million children just like Adama’s die from diarrheal diseases despite the fact that easy, cost-effective products exist that could save those lives. Household water treatments allow vulnerable populations – namely women - to take charge of their water security by providing them with the knowledge and tools to treat their own drinking water.
Adama learned about household water treatment from PSI’s affiliate organization in Nigeria, Society for Family Health (SFH). While she learned too late to save her own daughter, her loss inspired her to do more than just treat her own family’s water. Adama volunteered to be an outreach worker with SFH and became one of the most vibrant safe water volunteers in her community. She targets women at naming ceremonies, weddings, and ante-natal clinics with messages on treating water and preventing diarrhea. Each month, Adama reaches about 150 people and sells an average of 450 bottles of WaterGuard, SFH’s water treatment product. She is the epitome of an empowered woman making wide-reaching and lasting changes within her community.
PSI believes that engaging women like Adama in health interventions has a ripple effect that can positively impact health outcomes in communities and even countries as a whole. Since 1998, PSI has empowered women like Adama to treat more than 93.7 billion liters of water and has helped prevent more than 31.8 million cases of diarrhea, including more than 5.9 million cases in 2010 alone. Adama laments her loss saying: “if I had known about WaterGuard earlier my child would not have had diarrhea and will be alive today.” Her actions demonstrate that by providing women with the knowledge and tools to treat water and make it safe, one woman can change the health and well-being of her entire community.