When I arrived in the village of Bogu in the Northern Region of Ghana, the first thing I saw was a group of women and girls with metal buckets on their head, walking toward us. They were returning from an hours-long walk to collect water from the government-built dugout. The water in the dugout is very turbid, or cloudy, which is a common sign of contamination; and it is contaminated with both human and animal waste. Yet Bogu’s women and girls must use it for all of their households’ drinking, cooking, cleaning and other needs.
More than 780 million people around the world lack access to safe drinking water, and seven million of them live in rural Ghana. Women and girls worldwide collectively spend 200 billion hours each day walking to collect water – time that could be spent in school or in income-producing activities. Many girls drop out of school or miss one week each month when they start their periods because of their schools lack toilets and menstrual pads. Collecting water not only takes up a great amount of women and girls’ time, it also exposes them to the adverse health effects that come with carrying an average of 44 pounds of water on their heads. Without access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), women and girls are exposed to infections, a lack of dignity, and a higher risk of maternal mortality.
Access to WASH improves maternal, newborn, and child health in a multitude of ways and has effects that can last for generations. Clean water and hygienic practices are critical to keeping mothers and infants healthy during and just after birth. As they grow, children benefit immensely, as the life-threatening water-related diseases that disproportionately affect them decline. In addition, hand-washing by children results in gains in global development quotients such as height, weight and social skills. Girls are able to stay in school, getting an education that opens new economic opportunities for them and their families, enables them to delay marriage, and not only improves their health, but raises the chances that their children will be healthy as well.
Community Water Solutions (CWS) uses an innovative approach to empower women to launch sustainable water businesses in rural Ghana. Throughout my few weeks in Bogu, my team and I worked with two women of the community, Zaba and Zuira – training them in the CWS method of water treatment and in financial management. When we left, Zaba and Zuira were successfully running a water treatment center that provides clean drinking water to the community, uses local products, and generates income for the two women. The women and children of Bogu now have reduced risk of water-related disease from drinking contaminated water, and new mothers and infants are more likely to have access to clean water. WASH has changed the lives of the women and girls of Bogu, and is doing so around the world.
This blog is part of the ongoing WASH and Women’s Health series coordinated by WASH Advocates for the MHTF blog. For more posts in the series, click here.