She’s only 12 years old, but she has an important job—collecting water every day for her family. She starts her four-mile journey at dawn on a rocky path surrounded by high grass where poisonous snakes and other wild animals can be found. The tall grass and shrubbery also provide cover for violent men who lie in wait to rob, sexually assault, or even kidnap women and young girls. She’s lucky on this trip and isn’t attacked.

Once she arrives at the water hole her village shares with livestock, she has to wait in line to fill her 20-liter jerrycan with contaminated water to carry home for her family to use for cooking and drinking. It’s not nearly enough water for a day, so she makes the trip at least three times a day. On average, it takes between four and six hours every day. That doesn’t leave much time for much else, including school.

It’s hard to imagine, but that’s the daily life of women and children living in developing countries where access to clean water is sparse. UNICEF estimated that in 2016, women and girls collectively spent 200 million hours every day, collecting water. It’s a huge number that’s almost impossible to grasp.

The lack of clean water and poverty are inextricably linked, and the heaviest burden falls on women. It’s a substantial threat to health and creates a barrier that prevents women and girls from lifting themselves out of poverty.

Health Issues

Carrying water is hard, physical work and the cause of lifelong neck and back pain that can potentially limit or prevent women from gainful employment. Contaminated water and poor sanitation are also linked to the transmission of life-threatening illnesses, such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid. As the primary caretakers, women are unable to work if they’re nursing sick family members.

When women have access to a nearby source of clean drinking water, a toilet or latrine, and knowledge about good hygiene practices like handwashing, it enables them to break the cycle of poverty and water-borne diseases.

Compromised Education

When young girls spend hours collecting water, they are unable to attend school. Waterborne diseases are also responsible for children missing school. It prevents them from getting an education to expand their horizons, introduce them to new perspectives, and gives them tools to succeed in life.

Reduced Employment Opportunities

Collecting water significantly reduces the time women have available to work in home-based businesses, agriculture, or employment outside the home. One report found that over 40 billion productive hours are lost each year to fetching water in sub-Saharan Africa. The need to collect water traps many women and their families in a cycle of poverty because it prevents them from earning and saving the money they need to achieve a better future.

Prohibitive Cost

While some areas have a piped water supply system, the cost can be exorbitant. For example, in Imphal, northeast India, more than half of the residents spend over a fifth of their incomes on water. The high cost of water can be a significant factor that keeps people in poverty. Even though there is a high cost associated with a piped water system, the system doesn’t necessarily provide clean water, either. For example, piped water in Kampala, Uganda was linked to a Typhoid Fever outbreak in 2015.

Without access to clean water, economic prosperity will never reach people living in developing countries. Thirst Relief International works with communities to ensure that women and children are relieved of time-consuming and dangerous water collection by providing and installing systems such as bore-wells and BioSand filters. Your support can keep women and children safe and provide them with opportunities to escape the vicious cycle of poverty.