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The Search for Clean Water Puts Women at Risk of Injury Globally: Report

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Nov 6, 2020

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Image Credit: PTI

Walking to and from common taps and wells daily to fetch water increases opportunities for injury, especially for women, according to a study of 21 middle- and low-income countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Women are most likely to face these injuries because fetching water is considered a woman’s (and sometimes children’s) job.

“We wanted to better understand the true burden of water insecurity,” Dr. Jo-Anne Geere, from the University of East Anglia, said in a statement. “Millions of people don’t have the luxury of clean drinking water at their home, and they face many dangers before the water even touches their lips. Global research on water has largely focused on scarcity and health issues related to what is in the water, but the burden and risks of how water is retrieved and carried have been overlooked until now.”

Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 households globally to understand where and how respondents experienced injuries while fetching water. Thirteen percent of respondents reported water-fetching injuries. Most injuries occurred due to falls on dangerous terrain that led to fractures and dislocations, mostly of lower limbs. Other injuries included spinal injuries and lacerations. Other causes of injuries included traffic accidents, animal attacks, and fights while waiting in queue for water.


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Almost 40% of women who live in rural India step out to fetch water for their homes daily, according to a survey from Gaon Connection, a rural news publication. From this group, 16% walk distances ranging from 1 to 5 kilometers to fetch water. Women balance multiple pots of water on their heads and have to walk back and forth to fetch water up to three times a day, which increases health problems and lowers life expectancy.

“[The report] highlights the importance of safe interventions that prioritize personal physical safety alongside traditional global indicators of water, sanitation, and hygiene,” Professor Paul Hunter, study author from the University of East Anglia, said in the statement.

“It’s really important that data on water-fetching injuries are systematically collected so that we can know the true burden of water insecurity. Currently, all of the broken bones, spinal injuries, lacerations, and other physical injuries are not accounted for in calculations about the burden of water insecurity,” Vidya Venkataramanan, Ph.D., a study author from Northwestern University, added.

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

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