Crippling Burdens



    We played a big part in a major study into the physical and emotional impact carrying water has on the health and lives of millions of girls and women.

    Women and girls in developing countries spend 40 billion hours every year collecting water. That’s equivalent to the annual working hours of France’s entire workforce!

    The burden of carrying water is a bigger problem than you think. It impacts on health, education, poverty, gender equality and clean water; all sustainable development goals. There was much speculation, but little known about the health impacts of fetching water. So, we were very proud to be part of the first large study of its kind.

    Women in south Asia and Africa typically carry 44lbs (20kg) of water on their heads, the same as the maximum baggage weight allowed by airlines. These studies indicated that water carrying, especially by head loading is associated with pain, and is likely a major contributing factor to disabilities from musculoskeletal disorders.

    On average women and girls in Africa have to walk 6km to collect water every day. This means many simply don’t have the time to go to school or work, which leads to social exclusion and gender inequality. Where clean water and toilet facilities have been installed, school enrolment rates for girls have improved by over 15%.

    There isn’t a simple solution to this complex problem. It’s going to take a collaborative effort from all kinds of experts – scientists, engineers, teachers, policymakers and health professionals. Which is why at UEA, we think beyond borders and work together to provide solutions to the issues that really matter.

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    UEA perspectives

    “There is strong evidence that in many circumstances, carrying water is associated with pain, fatigue, poorer maternal and child health, and violence against vulnerable people. Relieving women and children from the work of carrying water could allow them the opportunity and choice to put their energy into the activities that they value most, and afford them more freedom to realise their full potential.” – Jo-Anne Geere, Lecturer, School of Health Sciences

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