- 3 min read
Statistical data is undoubtedly the principal instrument in obtaining and understanding problems surrounding water scarcity. Not only does it inform NGOs and humanitarian organizations, but it shapes the way we perceive the problem. Reports on water availability are published regularly, implying that monitoring of global water insecurity is not an issue. However, we must approach these numbers critically: what do they really tell us?
Most statistics focus on measuring the availability of water, that is, the presence of water sources in a relative proximity to the community which it serves. The water source may be physically available, however, most studies neglect factors such as economic and political accessibility as well as whether the method of acquisition is congruent with the local culture. It might be easy to misjudge the experience of water use in regards to its availability, but it is precisely the experience that shapes one’s wellbeing.
Sera L. Young from Northwestern University led a project which aimed to look differently at water availability. The researchers took into account people’s experience with water insecurity: not just the availability of water or the proximity to the water source but the psychological implications. It considered the personal stress, the inability to prepare food (especially for newborns) and the weekly interruption to water supply. Subsequently, they developed the Household Water Insecurity Experience (HWISE) scale which allows to quantify the daily experience and can be now used by researchers around the world to measure the way people experience water insecurity.
Measurements in water use experience are crucial in identifying problems, targeting vulnerable populations and administering appropriate solutions. Water is a determinant not only of health but also of economic productivity, environmental wellbeing and more. This renders all implications of water use closely interrelated – unavailability of water affects school attendance, development of children, gender equality in a specific community and even makes domestic violence more prevalent. Perhaps it is not the number of schools and teachers, or even the development of a new vaccine, but the simple provision of water and handwashing facilities that could lead to greater literacy, decrease child mortality rate and more. Without precisely targeting issues such as difficulty with food preparation (Schuster, 2019) or injuries inflicted while fetching water (Venkataramanan, 2019), sustainable and long-lasting aid may not be achieved. In creating more resilient communities, it is, therefore, of utmost importance to take into account the experience associated with water availability (or lack thereof).
“Girls by well” by Global Water Partnership – a water secure world is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
- “Girls by well” by Global Water Partnership – a water secure world is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
- Schuster, Butler. “‘If There Is No Water, We Cannot Feed Our Children’: The Far‐reaching Consequences of Water Insecurity on Infant Feeding Practices and Infant Health Across 16 Low‐ and Middle‐income Countries.” American Journal of Human Biology, vol. 32, no. 1, Wiley, Dec. 2019, p. e23357–n/a, doi:10.1002/ajhb.23357.
- Venkataramanan V, Geere JL, Thomae B Household Water Insecurity Experiences Research Coordination Network (HWISE RCN), et al. In pursuit of ‘safe’ water: the burden of personal injury from water fetching in 21 low-income and middle-income countries. BMJ Global Health 2020;5:e003328.