By Lori Lewis, Guest Writer
Nearly 40% of the world's population lacks access to adequate sanitation systems. In India alone, roughly 450,000 children under the age of five die each year from diseases contracted by drinking contaminated water. Most of these deaths are due to enteric illnesses caused by bacteria, protozoans, and viruses in water that has been contaminated with human and animal feces. Women and children bear the brunt of water-borne illnesses, due to social and cultural inequality. Most societies rely on women and girls for the majority of water collection and household sanitation. In rural India, some women walk for several hours a day to fetch water, which is used for cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing, care of animals, food production, and waste disposal.
The implications from lack of clean water go beyond immediate health issues. With so much time spent for water collection, many girls are unable to attend school, and they are at risk for increased violence as they travel rural areas in search of water. In addition, they may suffer from malnutrition, as the diseases they contract from contact with contaminated water can deplete the body of precious nutrients.
The Water Project is helping women and girls to overcome the barriers they face by providing access to clean water in schools and villages across India and Africa. When women spend less time collecting water, they spend more time working on income-generating microenterprises, and girls are able to regularly attend school.