Environmental Protection

The Water Crisis Is a Women's Crisis, Group Says

In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women's time is consumed for collecting water for domestic use. This lost productivity is greater than the combined number of hours worked in a week by employees at Wal*Mart, United Parcel Service, McDonald's, IBM, Target and Kroger, according to Gary White, co-founder of Water.org.

The water crisis is the everyday reality for women in much of the world, including Africa, South Asia and Central America. "The water crisis isn't just a world crisis, it's a women's crisis," White said. "That's why Water.org is launching the 'Women Can't Do Anything' campaign to bring the issue into the open and encourage people to help solve it." Using a variety of social media, Water.org is bringing the women's crisis into focus at make a difference themselves.

"Women's futures are limited, access to education is compromised, and entire populations are marginalized in these parts of the world simply because of the lack of access to safe water," White said. "Water is such a building block; you can't really move forward with your life until you meet this basic need."

People do not have ready access to water in most areas of sub-Saharan Africa. In remote villages in Tigray, Ethiopia, where Water.org works, women spend hours collecting enough water for their families to survive another day. Recently, Water.org released video footage on its Web site called "44 Pounds" that documents the daily struggles of a woman named Birhane, a Tigray resident, to collect water for her family. Twice a day, Birhane spends up to two hours collecting water from an open hand-dug well, which is three miles from her home. Soon, this will change, thanks to a Water.org project using grant and microfinance models.

Less well known are the challenges women face in the urban slums of South Asia, including in India and Bangladesh. While community water points here are near homes, they are shared with up to 50 other families. Water is available only a few hours each day and not on a regular schedule. Due to the unpredictable and limited water supply, women like Shoba in Hyderabad, India, mother of three, must choose between getting their children off to school and waiting in line to collect water for their basic needs. Often, young girls hold sole responsibility for collecting water for their households and miss school as a result.

Working through local partner organizations, Water.org delivers solutions that include hygiene education, sanitation and safe water access.

In addition to its programs, another important aspect of Water.org's mission is to help educate people about the global water crisis. "Our goal is to help people understand not only the physical toll the lack of safe water takes on women, but the emotional, social and economic toll as well," White said. "This is what we hope to accomplish with our 'Women Can't Do Anything' campaign."

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