It is easy for those who live in the developed world or the unban centers of the developing world to not appreciate what a tremendous boon it is to have easy access to clean water. For many poor rural communities, getting water takes up much of the time and energy of people who have to make a trek to the source of relatively clean water, and then carry it back to their homes.
Women are usually the ones who are burdened with this task and is one of the main things that holds back their progress. Having to carry out this chore day after day results in young girls being denied access to proper schooling and adult women being unable to enter the work force and advance themselves. And the numbers are staggering.
According to a new report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, 2.1 billion people around the world face that challenge every day. And the task of providing water for households falls disproportionately to women and girls, especially in rural areas.
I have carried out research in India, Bolivia and Kenya on the water and sanitation challenges that women and girls confront and how these experiences influence their lives. In my field work I have seen adolescent girls, pregnant women and mothers with small children carrying water.
Water is heavy. The World Health Organization recommends 20-50 liters of water per person per day for drinking, cooking and washing. That amounts to hauling between 44 and 110 pounds of water daily for use by each household member.
And in many places, water sources are far from homes. In Asia and Africa, women walk an average of 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) per day collecting water. Carrying such loads over long distances can result in strained backs, shoulders and necks, and other injuries if women have to walk over uneven and steep terrain or on busy roads.
Fetching water can also be very dangerous for women and girls. They can face conflict at water points and the risk of physical or sexual assault.
Providing ready access to clean water would constitute one of the biggest steps in the advancement of women and thus of society in general.