Education is critical for breaking the cycle of poverty and yet over half of the world’s schools lack access to safe water and sanitation facilities.
Lack of clean water has serious effects on students’ academic performance and attendance rates. The lack of safe water can cause even the best students to lose momentum as they deal with stomach pains and diarrhea from disease and hunger.
Students miss class to go fetch water, or to care for sick parents or siblings. In many places HIV/AIDS has already caused a large percentage of children to become orphans, requiring students to drop out and find work to provide food and care for younger siblings. If teachers are sick, classes get cancelled for all students.
Schools cannot run programs if they cannot provide water to students, faculty and their families.
For girls, the situation is especially troublesome. If schools do not have proper toilets, girls drop out once they reach puberty. Further, it is typically the responsibility of the women to fetch water thus limiting their access to both education and business opportunities. Think about it: everyday, women and young girls carry more than 40 pounds of dirty water from sources over 4 miles away from their homes. This leaves little time for education which is critical to changing the long term prospects of developing nations.
With the many additional burdens that a lack of clean water brings, education simply becomes less of a priority. This sets up an unfortunate cycle of poverty and inequality as without a proper education, there is little chance of improving one’s situation later in life.
We may take it for granted, but water on demand is a luxury. With a simple turn of the tap, we shower, bathe, quench our thirst, cook our food and keep everything clean.
But for far too many girls and women, water is a lifelong burden.
Girls and women around the world spend 200 million hours a day gathering water. In 8 out of 10 homes without running water, it’s the girls who spend hours every day lugging heavy containers over rough terrain. They are often alone and at risk of attack or even kidnapping.
Time spent collecting water is time away from school — denying girls a chance to build a better future. Even girls who manage to fit learning into a day filled with household chores can easily fall behind because one in three schools lack the toilets they need once they hit puberty. Absenteeism among girls during their monthly periods becomes yet another barrier to education for girls already facing obstacles.
Once they grow older, girls face a life of caregiving made far more difficult by the lack of clean, safe water. Contaminated water causes illness for all, but it’s women and girls who care for the sick — especially during emergencies when damaged water supplies and compromised sanitation take a heavy toll.