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Water, sanitation, hygiene and women in Sindh

LAKSHMI Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN for Women, said at the closing session of the 2012 World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, on Aug 31 last that globally it was estimated that women spent more than 200 million hours a day collecting water. She added that development could neither be sustainable nor inclusive if it did not free women and girls from carrying heavy water buckets every day.

Her statement is correct when seen in the context of rural Sindh, where it is common sight to see rural women fetching water from a one-way distance of as long as seven kilometre.

This is equivalent to walking from Clifton to Gulshan-i-Iqbal in Karachi.

The water they get and drink is dirty. There is no choice. Animals also drink from the same source. On drinking, women and their children face waterborne and diarrhoeal diseases.

These women spend six hours daily fetching water for their families.

Over 80 per cent of rural households do not have water supply on their premises. Malnutrition in common among rural women. There is a strong link between diarrhoea and malnutrition.

A Stanford University research paper (Pickering and Davis, 2012) shows that a 15 minutes’ decrease in one-way walk time to water source is associated with a 41 per cent average relative reduction in diarrhoea prevalence, improved anthropometric indicators of child nutritional status, and a 11 per cent relative reduction in under-five child mortality.

Another related study undertaken in four countries (Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, and Yemen), estimated that reducing the time it takes to fetch water by just one hour could increase girls’ enrollment in schools by over 30 per cent.

A WHO report says that almost one-tenth of the global disease burden could be prevented by improving water supply, sanitation, hygiene and management of water resources. Another estimate reports that four per cent of all deaths can be attributed to water, sanitation, and hygiene.

Interesting findings were reported in the WHO bulletin (Esrey et al, 1985). The authors studied impact of various interventions on average reductions in
diarrhoeal diseases. They found that water and sanitation achieved 30 per cent reduction in diarrhoeal diseases; sanitation achieved 36 per cent; water quality 15 per cent; water quantity 20 per cent and hygiene 33 per cent.

Based on this study, the authors concluded that sanitation and hygiene are major causes of diarrhoeal diseases. A recent survey conducted by the British Medical Journal identified sanitation as the greatest medical invention in the last 150 years.

Poor water, sanitation and hygiene have a strong connection with women’s health. When these sectors fail, women and girls are disproportionately affected. An issue, which is neglected in Sindh is the menstrual hygiene management (MHM). The issue has reached high on the international agenda during the last five years. The MHM requires access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene sectors, in order for the women and girls in rural Sindh to live healthy, productive and dignified lives.

Women in rural Sindh have the right to safe water and sanitation. The UN Assembly “declares the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”