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The Burden of Clean Water Worldwide Still Borne by Women

Clean, drinkable water is crucial for human existence, but according to the Women Thrive Alliance, roughly 663 million people worldwide still lack easy access to safe water.

Clean, drinkable water is crucial for human existence, but according to the Women Thrive Alliance, roughly 663 million people worldwide still lack easy access to safe water.

Globally, women and girls are the primary water collectors for their families: In African countries, women are five times more likely than men to collect drinking water for the household, particularly in rural areas; a 2012 study by UNICEF in 25 sub-Saharan African countries estimates that women there spend 16 million hours collecting water every day.

In Ethiopia, girls such as 13-year-old Aysha make eight-hour round trips daily, taking time away from school, family and play to find water as in her country, 3.9 million drought- and flood-affected people survive on less than 5 liters of water a day. The WHO’s recommendation is for 20-50 liters of water per person per day for drinking, cooking and hygiene.

And as Bethany Caruso noted recently in The Conversation, “The United Nations forecasts that if current water use patterns do not change, world demand will exceed supply by 40 percent by 2030. In such a scenario, it is hard to imagine that women’s and girls’ experiences will improve without intentional efforts.”

Ensuring the availability and sustainable management of clean water and sanitation for all is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. In addition to the many innovations that continue to emerge from startups and researchers around the world, many global brands – all of which, admittedly, have a vested interest in a sustainable supply of clean water – began working to change conditions in developing countries, even prior to the launch of the Goals in 2015. Here are just a few:

  • In 2014, Keurig Green Mountain launched an effort to address the long-term, interconnected challenges of the global water crisis, starting with an $11 million commitment to support leading NGOs working to promote water security around the world.
  • Also in 2014, TOMS, pioneer of the one-for-one social impact model, ventured into coffee with the launch of TOMS Roasting Company; sales of TOMS Coffee aim to help improve access to clean water in the countries from which the company sources its beans: Every cup purchased provides a day’s worth of clean water through the installation of sustainable, community-owned water systems; every bag provides a week’s worth.
  • Also in 2014, the Acqua for Life campaign — a partnership between Giorgio Armani and Green Cross International that has provided sustainable drinking water systems to water-scarce communities in West Africa and Latin America since its launch in 2011 — expanded its work to Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
  • In early 2015, Belgian beer maker Stella Artois launched its first global social impact campaign, “Buy a Lady a Drink,” specifically aimed at helping to put a stop to women’s water-collecting journeys; the brewer donated $1.2 million to and invited consumers to join the cause by purchasing limited-edition Stella Artois chalices, with each purchase helping provide five years of clean water to one person in the developing world. For World Water Day this year, Stella Artois teamed up with National Geographic to produce Our Dream of Water, a documentary spotlighting the effects of the global water crisis.
  • Also in 2015, Procter & Gamble (P&G) announced it would deliver 15 billion liters of clean drinking water through its Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program by 2020 – one way it hopes to achieve this is through the use of its water-purifying sachets, which can purify 10 liters of dirty, contaminated water in 30 minutes; with each U.S. order of its Purifier of Water packets, P&G will donate enough to supply three months' worth of clean water to a child in a developing country.
  • In 2016, Kohler Co. partnered with the nonprofit, Christian engineering organization Water Mission to distribute its ceramic filtration system, KOHLER Clarity, as a household-level, safe water solution to small communities in Haiti, Honduras and Peru.