The Water Burden | UNICEF USA
 

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For many girls and women, access to safe water is the foundation to equity and freedom

We may take it for granted, but water on demand is a luxury. With a simple turn of the tap, we shower, bathe, quench our thirst, cook our food and keep everything clean.

But for far too many girls and women, water is a lifelong burden.

Girls and women around the world spend 200 million hours a day gathering water. In 8 out of 10 homes without running water, it is the girls who are responsible for lugging heavy containers over rough terrain. They are often alone and at risk of attack or even kidnapping.

Just imagine: 200 million hours is 8.3 million days, or over 22,800 years. It would be as if a woman started with her empty bucket in the Stone Age and didn't arrive home with water until 2016. Think how much the world advanced in that time. Think how much women could have achieved in that time. — Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Director of Program Division and former UNICEF Chief of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Section

Time spent collecting water is time away from school — denying girls a chance to build a better future. Even girls who manage to fit learning into a day filled with household chores can easily fall behind, as one in three schools lack the toilets they need once they hit puberty. Absenteeism among girls during their monthly periods becomes yet another barrier to education for girls already facing huge obstacles.

Once they grow older, girls face a life of caregiving made far more difficult by the lack of clean, safe water. Contaminated water causes illness for all, but it is women and girls who care for the sick — especially during emergencies when damaged water supplies and compromised sanitation take a heavy toll. These challenges and risks have only increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take a 360° tour of Uganda and meet Sylvia. Learn about her strength and hopes as she struggles to find safe water.

UNICEF works to eliminate the Water Burden

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation, Goal 6, calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030. The first step is providing everyone with a basic service within a 30-minute round trip, and the long-term goal is to ensure everyone has safe water available at home.

Annually, UNICEF invests $1 billion in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs in over 110 countries, building solar-powered water pumps for communities, providing education on and products for menstrual hygiene management, equipping schools with private changing rooms, single-sex bathrooms and handwashing stations and more. Accessible WASH programs prevent girls from missing school and falling into child labor, adolescent pregnancy and forced marriage. 

Learn more about UNICEF’s work in WASH and Equity for Girls.

Help girls and women around the world by providing easier access to safe water. 

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Learn about the Water Burden girls and women face, and how you can get involved. You and UNICEF can make a difference!

Aysha's Story
Thirteen-year-old Aysha lives in Afar, Ethiopia, where she devotes her days to a solitary hunt for water. Tag along with her as she and her camel make the daily eight-hour trip to collect water for her family.
Read Aysha's Full Story
Rosemaine's Story
Rosemaine's brother contracted cholera after drinking contaminated water. But UNICEF gave Rosemaine a way to make sure no one else would get sick again. Watch Rosemaine fight for her family as she learns how to keep them — and their water — safe.
Read Rosemaine's Full Story
Hiba's Story
After shelling and bombing drove 10-year-old Hiba and her family from their home in Homs, Syria, the burden of collecting water fell to her.
Read Hiba's Full Story