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Stanford researchers find installing piped water near homes promotes gender equality and improves well-being in rural Zambia

Women and their children fill buckets of water
Jan 13 2021
Fellow, Research, Stanford, Students

Water isn’t just crucial for life, it’s fundamental to increasing opportunities for women and girls in rural areas across the globe. A new Stanford study reveals how bringing piped water closer to remote households in Zambia dramatically improves the lives of women and girls, while also improving economic opportunities, food security and well-being for entire households. The research, published in Social Science & Medicine, could spur governments and NGOs to more carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of piped water as an alternative to less accessible communal water sources.

“Switching from the village borehole to piped supply saved almost 200 hours of fetching time per year for a typical household,” said study senior author Jenna Davis, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and director of Stanford’s Program on Water, Health and Development. “This is a substantial benefit, most of which accrued to women and girls.”

Globally, about 844 million people live without safe, accessible water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, hygiene and food production – the linchpin of healthy, prosperous communities. Just 12 percent of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa has water piped to their home. Instead, families collect water from distant, shared sources, with women and girls overwhelmingly responsible for performing the time-consuming and arduous chore of carrying containers that average about 40 pounds each. Dedicating a large chunk of their day to water fetching takes time away from activities such as childcare, housework, hygiene, outside employment, education and leisure.

Study lead author, James Winter, is a 2016 SGF fellow.

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