The sun had barely set, it seemed, when it was time for Nsonge to wake up and prepare for the two-mile long trek to the nearest stream. She needed to fetch water for the family before her husband and children awoke, returning by sunrise to begin the rest of the day’s work.
Currently, nearly 750 million people, 11 percent of the world’s population, lack access to safe water; more than half of these individuals are women and girls. Daily, they are responsible for collecting water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, hygiene, and sanitation. The huge burden of fetching water hinders women and girls’ participation in activities such as education, politics, business, and recreation.
Distance and Time
Collecting water is often the most time-consuming and most important daily activity for women and young girls in developing countries. It has been estimated that women in sub-Saharan Africa spend 40 billion hours annually fetching and carrying water from sources (that may not provide clean water) far from home. The time spent collecting water makes it difficult for women to focus on other economic activities and for young girls to attend school. The weight of the water they carry also exposes them to a greater risk of malnutrition, back problems, and anemia. They expend immense amounts of energy and often do not have enough food to replenish their weary bodies, which is especially dangerous for pregnant women.
The precious, small amounts of water gathered are often only used for drinking and food preparation, leaving little hope for disease-fighting hygiene practices like handwashing. Too little water for proper hygiene behaviors perpetuates harmful pathogens and bacteria, which are a major cause of diarrheal disease, sickness, malnutrition, and death. Women bare the majority of these burdens as the caregivers in the family. Also, women are commonly the ones to care for the family’s crops if they have access to land. Without adequate amounts of water for irrigation, crops suffer and women are not able to feed their families.
In many places, the available water source, even at a great distance, is contaminated. Many women lack access to enough fuel to boil and treat the water. Additionally, many times new technologies for water treatment are taught to the men in the community and the knowledge remains unshared with the women who manage the water collection and storage for the family. This hard-earned water, if left untreated, has the potential to infect small children and elderly adults with fatal illness.
Improved water sources are the first step to empowering women in developing countries. As the main users of water, women’s lives, like Nsonge’s, are waiting to be radically transformed by Lifewater’s mWASH programs, including water well drilling, pump repair, and spring capping to provide safe water close to their homes. Partner with Lifewater to change women’s lives around the world through the gift of water.
 WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: 2014 Update (Geneva: WHO Press, 2014), 8.
 W.J. Cosgrove and F.R. Rijsberman, “Creating a vision for water, life and the environment,” Water Policy 1 (1998): 115.