Report

Economic advantages of having access to water

02/21/2014

Chronic poverty contributes to a variety of negative outcomes, including adverse health effects, crowded households, lack of resources and finances for water, food, school fees, clothing, permanent housing structures or other necessities. The majority of the population throughout Africa experiences this type of poverty. Current public health efforts seek to remedy the effects of poverty; unfortunately, public health services are perceived by some organizations as the primary obstacle threatening the economic status of Africa. Even with continuing public health aid, populations throughout Africa continue to experience poor standards of living, a decreased capacity for individual development, and insecure social and economic growth. One suggestion would be to prioritize projects that focus on alleviating a variety of public health issues under one intervention; thus, creating “the most bang for one’s buck” scenario.

"All these are positive changes to my life"

Nearby access to safe drinking water alleviates adverse health effects in populations throughout the world. Aside from improved health outcomes, additional outcomes may occur. Previous research is limited regarding the economic advantages from implemented water interventions. This research provides evidence that implementing water interventions may reside under the umbrella of public health interventions addressing multiple issues simultaneously.

Qualitative research was used to understand economic experiences from participants. This research setting occurred in the historically semi-arid region of Kitui, Kenya, where community members have been beneficiaries of various water interventions. In this region and throughout Kenya, water gatherers are primarily the female head of household, but occasionally includes a child. Prior to the water intervention and depending on their socioeconomic status, primary water gatherers could walk up to 7 hours a day carrying 20 liters of water on their back while herding their livestock 10 km to Athi or Tiva River. One mother explained when being asked if she liked the water intervention, “I like that water. And, I even lack words to explain… because as I said, previously I used to go to Athi River for four hours and come back with 25 liters of water. Imagine 25 liters of water with a family of 10 people. This… you wouldn’t have water to bath, to clean the clothes, it was only for cooking and drinking. So, I can’t fail to love and like this water. And everybody in this community is like me because we were all facing the same thing.”

Prior to the water intervention, water gathering affected household members in a variety of ways and inadvertently created economic hardships experienced by the families. At times, jobs, farms, or businesses would be neglected; having nearby access to water changed economic hardships that were previously only semi-addressed. One entrepreneur exclaimed, “I used to lose business because when I went to the river, I would have to close my shop. When they found I had closed, they would move onto other shops. I am always open so that increases the business. So, with the water in my homestead, I have seen an increase in the sales of my shop.”

Brick Makers
Brick Makers.

After receiving nearby access to quality water- a one hour roundtrip venture- participants experienced improved economic situations. The implementation of the water intervention encouraged economic development within the communities. Project development included brick making for houses, community gardens, and improved structures within the community. One father exclaimed, “I love the project because it’s development for the area… and when I say development- when water is near and you take less time to collect it- you are able to do other gainful activities, like farming. I can say it’s development that now I am in my own homestead. I have constructed my own house. That is development.”

Many community members participate in brick-making after the establishment of the water intervention. Brick-making in the region uses the clay-like terrain and an abundance of water; previously, this venture was difficult to accomplish with lack of access and availability of water resources. This was confirmed by one community member, “Water from Tiva cannot be adequate for brick-making.” Bricks are used for a variety of project purposes. The community member waves his arms around, providing evidence of brick usage on the property while explaining, “The construction is as a result of the water being near. I used to build with mud and trees to construct the houses- which were only semi-permanent- but now, we can make bricks and construct permanent houses. We have been able to transform our home compound and build better classrooms in the school and also the church.”

Access to nearby water encouraged more time for other economic activities. One primary water gatherer explains, “All these are positive changes to my life because I am able to have more time to do other things because I know it would only take less than an hour to go get water. All that other time, I am able to do other economic activities to help my family.” Gainful economic activities provided benefits for the household living area and for individual family members. “It has really helped me because I can tell you, for two years, I paid fees for my son through making and selling bricks, which could only be made because water was near.”

"I am able to do other economic activities to help my family."

Community member’s experiences after implemented water interventions revealed enhanced economic situations within household family units.  Additional financial revenue was gained and used to pay for water to make bricks to sell or use for housing structures, expanding house gardens and agricultural crops, building new businesses, purchasing water for their animals, and building local water spouts near the household. The increased revenue encouraged economic growth and improved economic challenges experienced by families.

According to a report issued by the Commission on Sustainable Development by the World Health Organization, establishing clean water programs have significant economic benefits; it is estimated that for every US dollar invested, there is an economic return of $3-34 USD. The vast majority of these returned dollars are derived from the increased economic productivity of individuals or within households. Close proximity to clean water encourages family members to use the time saved from walking long distances or waiting in lines at their normal water sites allocating it to educational or business ventures. Additionally, improving resource management is another way to boost economic prosperity; for example, the WHO reports that every US dollar invested in improving water sources in communities allows approximately $7.50-200 USD to be saved and used towards other economically-stimulating ventures.

This supplemental information is provides essential insight into specific steps that may help alleviate poverty in the developing world; additionally, this research provides evidence of an increased need for access to quality water for communities worldwide, demonstrating an overwhelming positve contribution to healthy economic development and productivity.

Keywords:

Economics, water interventions, increased revenue stream, public health

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of Johns Hopkins University or the Johns Hopkins University Global Water Program.