To Eradicate Poverty, Water and Sanitation Are Vital

Last week the global community marked its 20th year in observing the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that world leaders committed to more than a decade ago. The goal includes a target to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty -- people whose income is less than one dollar a day. Yet, all other MDG targets contribute to this one -- and vice versa.

The theme for this year's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty - "Working together out of poverty" -- highlighted the need for a truly global antipoverty alliance, one in which both developed and developing countries participate actively.

Eradicating poverty can involve many varied and innovative approaches according to circumstance. But a universal factor is that development of livelihoods depends on communities enjoying good health and access to education. These, in turn, are reliant on access to safe water and sanitation.

Communities without safe water sources and without latrines live lives dominated by the search for water and blighted by disease, lives which leave scant time for productive work or school to build education and skills that yield greater employment and earning potential. In developing countries, women sometimes spend up to five hours every day collecting water. Often the water is dirty and contaminated with diseases, meaning women are further burdened by their own illness and the care of others who are sick in their families. Their daughters usually end up accompanying them with these tasks and often miss school to help, thus perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

When women gain access to safe water sources closer to home, the time taken to collect water can be measured in minutes rather than hours or days. Improved sanitation also reduces disease and the time lost to illness. Women are able to spend their extra time and energy on activities that boost their family's income rather than just ensuring family survival. Research suggests that women reinvest 90 percent of their income in their families, as opposed to 30-40% reinvested by men; a woman with access to resources is therefore good for her children and her community.

Ester Bizwick is one example of a woman who has been able to take her first steps out of poverty since gaining access to safe water and sanitation. Ester lives in Wilson village in the Machinga District of Malawi.

Ester is a mother to 10 children. She used to draw water from the Lisanjala River. Ester describes how she used to go and get water with her children both for drinking and washing their bodies. Additionally, because the water was dirty, they used to get sick with diarrhea. The hospital was over 25 miles away.

When WaterAid helped Ester's community to gain access to an improved water source, she had more water and time, so she was able to grow vegetables to eat and sell: yielding both improved nutrition and increased household income. She told us:

Since the water came, our lives have changed. We are able to concentrate on our families and the children are not getting sick any more so we are saving time and being more productive. The women now have more time to rest or grow vegetables and more time to look after children and grandchildren. We have been growing vegetables to eat instead of buying them. Because we are not buying vegetables we can save money.

Across the developing world nearly 800 million people lack access to safe water, while 2.5 billion live without sanitation. There are millions of stories of people trapped in poverty because they lack these services. In other words, poverty eradication and basic services such as water and sanitation are part and parcel of the same objective to improve human well-being for those most in need.

By prioritizing the improvement of water, sanitation and hygiene services, civil society, governments and local partners could help ensure more communities across the developing world have the time and health necessary to start the climb out of poverty, as Ester did.
This blog is part of a series in recognition of the UN's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Oct. 17. This piece was originally published on InterAction's blog on 10/15/2012.