Unsafe water supplies and poor sanitation trap families in poverty by undermining health, education, livelihoods and nutrition. The most direct
impacts upon people's finances include:
Impact on paid employment
Poor people, particularly women, are often unable to engage in paid
work when they don't have safe water nearby. This is because they often
spend hours each day trekking to the nearest water source, waiting
their turn in long queues for water, or are too ill with water-related
diseases to have the strength to work.
Awa holds the soap she is now able to sell in Nafadji, Mali.
Credit: WaterAid / Sally Warren
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 5.6 billion working
days would be gained annually if there was universal access to safe
water and sanitation.
In contrast, people living near safe water supplies can look after
the water needs of their family in a matter of minutes, leaving the
rest of the day free to earn much-needed cash.
People like 51 year old Awa from Navajo in Mali has described how
life has changed since WaterAid helped her community establish its own
safe water supply:
"Before we spent all day fetching water. Now Nafadji women can go
out first thing in the morning to go to market and sell things. Some
women sell vegetables: aborigines, cabbages and tomatoes and some make
soap to sell."
Awa is pictured above holding a home made soap ball which she will be able to sell for 250 francs (roughly $ 0.50).
When people have better health and more time through WaterAid
projects households are able to improve their income in many different
ways - including increased vegetable sales, farming or basket weaving.
Costs of healthcare
In countries without welfare states, poor families often have to spend high proportions of their income on doctors' fees and medicines. Having access to safe water supplies and latrines leads to a large reduction in water-related diseases and consequent falls in the amount spent on healthcare. This frees up income for other needs.
In addition it is often women and girls who stay at home and look after their sick relatives - which also adds strain to their workload and further reduces the time available for other work.
Costs of buying water
Poor communities without access to water supplies, particularly in urban areas, often have no option but to spend money they can ill afford on buying water from expensive water vendors who can get their water from dubious sources.
Hasina no longer needs to buy water from market traders.
Credit: WaterAid / Abir Abdullah
Before gaining access to a WaterAid communal waterpoint, thirty year old Hasina from Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital city, regularly traveled across town to haul water home and paid dearly for the privilege:
''Before getting this sanitation block I used to be lucky to get a wash once every three days. I had to travel to the market and buy 20 liters of water for 1 taka ($0.01) which was even more money back then considering I had no regular income."
The community now contribute a small amount of money towards the running costs of the WaterAid project to ensure it lasts long in to the future and Hasina is paid a small wage to run the block and ensure it is clean.
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The costs of dirty water
Uleftae Mundeo is one of millions of women worldwide trapped in poverty in part by unsafe water. As well as losing time each day to water collection, the healthcare to treat water-related diseases costs her family dear, as she explained:
“I have to collect my water from here every day. It is very difficult to drink this water – whenever I drink this water it feels very uncomfortable and gassy in my stomach.
"When it is possible we walk to water points that are very far away from here to buy clean water instead, but this isn’t always possible and so we often have to drink the water from here. We don’t know what the diseases are that come from this water, but most people here are sick from stomach diseases from drinking this.
"Most parents are very worried about their children, sometimes they will have to take one to the clinic in the morning and then another in the afternoon. But it costs around 20-50 birr and so often all of the money they earn from farming is spent on medicine and so it isn’t advisable to have children! That is why I only have one! He is called Tewefick and is four months old – my brother is looking after him while I collect water.
"Generally in the future I wish for my family to have a good income. I would like us to have more cattle and I hope that we get clean water close to home."
Photo: WaterAid / Caroline Irby