Why The Poor Pay More For Their Water

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Last week but one, I attended a meeting of women rights NGOs here in Uganda.

The meeting which doubled as a workshop was held for groups specifically involved in gender and water sanitation advocacy in Uganda. On arrival putting two and two together did not make sense however as the hosts (NAWAD) began to explain the connection it seemed obvious addressing the subject of water sanitation from a gender perspective.

Women are the gateways to water in many rural areas in Africa. Women are the collectors, walking often long distances to fetch water for their families. They also prepare food, clean homes, bathe children all using water. In order to create cleaner water usage women would have to be engaged to improve the consumption of water. Much of these organisations endeavored to develop women in the areas where many still have no rights up to today; a reality that affects their work in maintaining water sanitation.

What does developing women really mean?

To these groups, development involved engaging women in the strategies they create to better improve water provision and sanitation. Women are not only trained on using cleaner practices such utilizing rain water from water harvesting methods as a way to avoid open water sources, they are also put in community groups to offer solution on how better to address their own situations.

This all seemed well and good until the discussion phase of the meeting raised a number of challenges in their work. Speaking from experience hardly any of them seemed surprised, however to me all was news.

– As a country tackling the provision of water to deprived rural areas, Uganda had erected boreholes and racked up impressive statistics of their dispersion around the country. On closer look however many of these structures had functioned for a couple of months and broken down soon after. However on merely focusing on the stats these dysfunctional structures remained a count and were in fact obscuring the bigger problem.

–  number 2, Inefficiencies were rampant within the efforts of actors involved. NGO’s and Government bodies were putting up boreholes next to one another rather than obeying the rules of distance.

-3rd, Many of these facilities were not friendly for disabled users.

– Then there was the economic factor – not only was water from these boreholes pumped for a price, the poor were on average paying 10 times more for their water than people living in cities. The implication of this was the fact that many village people were still using water from open sources such as swamps where they shared the source with animals. They do this because it is cheaper, however it leaves them exposed to all kinds of water-borne diseases.

Poor people pay more for their water.

This seems absurd. In fact it is more common than I thought. A study by the water project (thewaterproject.org) found that “people living in the slums of Nairobi, Jakarta and Manila actually pay 5 to 10 times more for water than those in high income areas of those same cities” it continues “they even pay more than consumers in London and New York.”

How inequitable can things get. The example of water carries on in the realities these poor people face in other aspects of their lives. Not only are they low-income earners, they are subjected to high prices for the most basic needs. The cycle continues as they spend more they are unable to change their lives because they cant save in such conditions.

The question to me was why and how could these organisations change this fact. The answer lies in the economics of water. In many of these areas scarcity for clean and drinkable water is high. The results of this is people on who’s land many of these boreholes are erected on decide to create a business out of the opportunity. Selling water where there is non is surely one way to easily collect revenue.

In this line of thought it seems the only way to address this issue of scarcity is by making clean and drinkable water more available to these communities. And we go back to the work of these organisations and many African governments. The provision of durable water sources is an important and crucial act in addressing this problem. However when statistics hide the real situation on ground in order to show high activity the problem remains prevalent.


In order to make water more available:

– More extensive pipelines need to be built to support areas where water is scarce.

– Activity among these stake-holders need to be more efficient and their work needs to be followed up after even after the structures have been erected. Simply putting up a borehole is not enough, actors operating within these areas have to see that they remain usable and that they are not being manipulated by anyone within the community.

– More diverse methods of water supply need to be implemented in these areas. Water harvesting for example is a great solution for dry seasons and provide each family with a reserve. This is especially important in addressing issues of climate change.

– Engaging communities to take part in solving their own problems is a great way of making sure these projects last within their community.

– Innovative methods are needed to address long term problems of providing clean water. Using new media and other forms, discussion and creation needs to be facilitated among different groups. Group sharing all along the profession spectrum needs to happen, and good working relationships need to be established.

All these projects take time, labor and money. Awareness has to be created grassroots as well as internationally to invest in improving this situation. Within and across countries, we have to address the issue of poverty in order to abolish it from our societies. Creating a better more equitable water situation is a great start.

Share the word, donate to organisations handling these projects (do your research and find out which organisation your interested in), find out what your government is doing in and out of your country – get active!


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