Can you believe women and girls around the world collectively spend over 200 million hours every day to fetch water? UNICEF describes this as a colossal waste of valuable time (2016). This is equivalent to over 8.3 million days, or 22,800 years of valuable time and opportunity collectively wasted every day. Imagine if these women put this time and energy towards an income generating activity. It would have a tremendous impact towards alleviating poverty.
While many of us might be privileged to have access to clean water from the comfort of our homes, over two billion people live in countries where water supply is inadequate, and up to half of the world’s population could be living in areas facing water scarcity by as early as 2025 (UNICEF, n.d.). Water scarcity can be physical, meaning scarcity in the availability of water resources; or economic, meaning scarcity in access due poor governance, limited infrastructures and limited investment (UN Water, n.d.). This situation of water insecurity is exacerbated by many factors including climate change, population growth, conflict and migration, and poor water management and misuse (UNICEF, 2021).
In Sub-Saharan Africa, for homes with no access to clean water, the average round trip to fetch clean water is 33 minutes in rural areas and 25 minutes in urban areas (UNICEF, 2016). In Asia, the average round trip is 21 minutes and 19 minutes in rural and urban areas respectively (UNICEF, 2016). For certain countries such as Mauritania, Somalia, Tunisia and Yemen, a single trip might even take more than an hour (UNICEF, 2016).
Women and children (especially girls) bear the burden of water insecurity the most. As part of keeping the house, they have to fetch water for the family, often taking these trips several times in a day. Studies by the United Nations (UN) in Malawi suggested that women who collected water spent 54 minutes on average, while men spent only 6 minutes (UNICEF 2016). Similarly, women in Guinea and the United Republic of Tanzania who needed to fetch water spent 20 minutes on average, which was double that of men (UNICEF, 2016)
Not only does fetching water imply walking long distances for these women and children, it also implies carrying heavy containers of water on their heads from the source to the home. Traditionally, water is fetched using a five gallon container, which could weigh upto 40 pounds when full (Nolan, 2021). This makes fetching water a physically demanding chore for these women and children around the world, and could result in several health-related issues such as back and spine issues from carrying heavy water containers on the head; dehydration from fetching water in extreme heat; and sleep deprivation from getting up very early and staying up late to fetch water among many other tasks at home. Children especially, without the strength to safely carry these heavy water containers could experience lifelong health issues, while expectant mothers experience a high risk of injury and complications with pregnancy due to this tedious chore (Nolan, 2021). Apart from these health-related issues, the task of fetching water long distances away from home subjects women and children to safety concerns such as risks of rape on the way, wild animal attacks, and even risks of drowning when fetching water in rivers for example for those who can’t swim (Nolan, 2021).
Collecting water several kilometers away from home also has significant socio-economic impacts. Many women miss out on doing meaningful and income generating work, while many children are kept from attending school because of the need to fetch water for the home which could end up taking several hours in a day. This unfortunately maintains the cycle of poverty for several families.
Rolling Instead of Carrying Water
In order to address this issue of water insecurity and its consequences, the United Nations has established the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 which calls for a universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030 (UNICEF, 2016). The long term objective of this goal is to ensure everyone has access to clean water from the comfort of their home (UNICEF, 2016). While working towards this long-term objective, it is critical to make fetching water an easier chore for the millions of women and children around the world who need to walk long distances to access clean water. A simple yet highly impactful way of transforming this task is by changing the way it is done. Instead of carrying heavy water containers on the head several times a day, rolling barrel-shaped containers of water could make a big difference in the lives of millions.
This simple concept has been implemented by different social enterprises in several countries around the world such as Hippo Water Roller, Patton Water-on-Wheels, Wello Water Wheel, Wells on Wheels, and many others. The barrel-shaped containers are typically designed to transport between 45 and 90 litres of water, thus saving several hours needed for multiple trips using smaller containers which are carried on the head. These containers consist of a rolling drum with a screw-on cap and clip-on steel handle, enabling the fetcher to transport water without straining the neck and spine. The plastic used to manufacture these containers are typically adequate to withstand typical rural conditions such as uneven footpaths, rocks and even broken bottles without leaking (Hanlon, 2006).
Rolling instead of carrying water is a simple, affordable and easy to implement idea which could transform the lives of millions of women and children, and advance sustainable development. It will enable them to save time and energy which could be invested on improved productivity and better opportunities such as income generating activities and better education to break the cycle of poverty. It will also allow access to more water which will enhance their health, and dignity, through improving health and sanitation.
After Rolling Water, What Next?
Unfortunately, the water fetched by these women and children from boreholes, rivers, etc., is often contaminated and poses risks of contracting life-threatening diseases such as cholera. While rolling water will enable millions of homes to access water more easily, it is vital to also ensure the quality of this water is safe before consumption. This can be done through boiling, and water filtration for example.
At EnvironFocus, we work towards promoting access to safe drinking water for disadvantaged people in Nigeria through our Safe Drinking Water Project using instant microbial water filtration systems. We provide a transparent avenue for organizations and individuals to give access to safe drinking water in schools, health facilities, communities, internally displaced camps, etc. in Nigeria. Learn more here: https://www.environfocus.com/waterproject/
Hanlon, M. (2006, December 19). The Hippo roller – ingenious water roller. Retrieved from https://newatlas.com/go/6638/?itm_source=newatlas&itm_medium=article-body
Nolan, J. (2021, April 26). WHY WATER IS A WOMEN’S ISSUE. Retrieved from https://www.concernusa.org/story/water-is-a-womens-issue/
Reid, K. (2020, March 19). Walk for water: Your 6K vs. theirs. Retrieved from https://www.worldvision.org/clean-water-news-stories/walk-water-6k
UN Water. (n.d.). Water Scarcity. Retrieved from https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/scarcity/
UNICEF. (2016, August 26). UNICEF: Collecting water is often a colossal waste of time for women and girls. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-collecting-water-often-colossal-waste-time-women-and-girls
UNICEF. (2021, March). Water security for all. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/media/95241/file/water-security-for-all.pdf
UNICEF. (n.d.). Water scarcity. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/wash/water-scarcity#:~:text=Key%20facts,by%20as%20early%20as%202025.