Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletOctober 20, 2019

Earth Concerns News

The World's Water Crisis and Its Effect on Women and Children by Sister Mary Agnes Kehoe, CSJ

AThe world=s water crisis is having a devastating impact on quality of life for billions of the world=s citizens caught between twin realities of water scarcity and water pollution. Here in the United States, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, some 53 million Americans, nearly one-fifth of the population, drink tap water contaminated with lead, fecal bacteria or other serious pollutants. However, it is also very clear that the world=s poor are taking the brunt of the crisis.@ (The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World=s Water)

Women are the most affected by this crisis. More than half of the 1.2 billion people who do not have access to water are women and girls. Women=s traditional role as water collectors has confined them to perpetual poverty. Women and girls are responsible for collecting water for cooking, cleaning, health and hygiene, and if they have access to land, are responsible for growing food. In rural areas, women walk long distances to fetch water, often spending four to five hours per day carrying heavy containers and suffering acute physical problems. In arid and drought-prone areas, that challenge is compounded. In urban areas, women and girls may spend hours waiting in line to collect intermittently water supplies at standpipes. This inordinate burden inhibits involvement in other activities such as education, income generation and rest and recreation.

The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of all sickness in the world is attributable to unsafe water and sanitation. Women bear the main burden of caring for those who are ill.

Women=s entitlement to water is often precarious at best. Given their many and often competing needs, such as water for livestock and for human consumption, women often cannot avoid contaminating water supplies.

Because women are most often the collectors, users and managers of water in the household, they have considerable knowledge about water resources. Conversely, men in rural areas almost never fetch water. Because men=s work is considered a part of the productive economy of paid labor, it is generally seen as more worthy of infrastructure investments. As a result there may be infrastructure for irrigation but not safe drinking water within carrying distance or for other activities considered part of the care economy.

Unless we dramatically change our ways, between one-half and two-thirds of humanity will be living with severe fresh water shortages within the next quarter century.


What can we do?

!       Oppose the privatization of water and become informed about its ramifications.

!       Conserve water in your home.

!       Learn how water is managed in your region or town.

!       Limit the use of lawn fertilizers, using only phosphorus-free fertilizers.

!       Recognize the connection between ecology and spirituality.

!       Appreciate the interdependence and sacredness of all creation.

!       Grow in knowledge of ecological issues related to oceans, rivers, lakes, coastlines and wetlands.


(Adapted from Water Gift of Life by Religious on Water, ROW, 2005)


(June 2006)