Stanford University Study Finds That a Shorter Walk to Water in Africa Saves Lives

More than eight of every 10 homes in sub-Saharan Africa lack running water. A new study by researchers at Stanford University finds that families that live closer to water supplies are significantly healthier than families who live farther away.

The researchers studied data from 26 African countries. They estimated that 40 billion man hours of labor each year are spent fetching water for the home. In many cases, this task is borne by women and children.

Amy Pickering, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, concludes: “The time that women devote to water fetching is time that can’t be used for child care, food preparation, cleaning the household environment, or generating income. All of these factors can have direct influence on the health of the children.”

The authors point out that those who live farther away may tend to obtain less water than those who live closer. As a result, there may be less water in these households for cleaning and hygiene and this can produce higher levels of disease.

The data collected by Pickering and her colleagues found that reducing the walking time to the water source by 15 minutes reduces the mortality rate of children under the age of five by 11 percent.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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