Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Understanding Access to water

Joachim Ezeji

According to the WHO/UNICEF JMP Report 2008; 87 per cent of the world’s current population uses drinking water from improved sources. Out of this total figure; 54 per cent uses a piped connection in their dwelling, plot or yard, and 33 per cent uses other improved drinking water sources. This translates into 5.7 billion people worldwide who are now using drinking water from an improved source, an increase of 1.6 billion since 1990. About 3.6 billion people use a piped connection that provides running water in or near their homes.

However, estimates for 2006 as reported in this report show that the population reliant on unimproved drinking water sources is below one billion, and now stands at 884 million. Improved drinking water coverage in sub-Saharan Africa is still considerably lower than in other regions. Nevertheless, it has increased from 49 per cent in 1990 to 58 per cent in 2006, which means that an additional 207 million Africans are now using safe drinking water while 42 per cent are using unsafe or unimproved water sources.
The world is on track to meet
Unimproved drinking water sources according to the JMP include; unprotected dug well, unprotected spring,
cart with small tank/drum, tanker truck, and surface water (river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal, irrigation channels),and bottled water etc while other improved drinking water sources include Public taps or standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collection. Piped water on premises i.e. piped household water connection located inside the user’s dwelling; plot or yard is described as most improved by JMP by virtue of its position on the JMP 2008 drinking water ladder. Water is divided into three categories, which are illustrated in the form of a ‘drinking water ladder’ similar to that developed for sanitation.
The category ‘improved drinking water sources’ includes sources that, by nature of their construction or through active intervention, are protected from outside contamination, particularly faecal matter. These include piped water in a dwelling, plot or yard, and other improved sources.

However and beyond all these concerns, are other concerns of Accessibility, Affordability and Sufficiency of water. According to the UNHABITAT as quoted by Alabaster (2008); Accessibility means obtaining water by the households without taking undue proportion of the household’s time (less than one hour a day) for the minimum sufficient quantity of at least 20 liters per person per day. Affordability means water not taking undue proportion of a household’s income i.e. less than 10 percent. Sufficiency means water being available at a quantity of at least 20 liters per person per day.

Further to the foregoing, Alabaster (2008) defines a household as having access to improved water sources if it has sufficient amount of water for family use, at an affordable price, available to household members without being subject to excessive physical effort and time. According to Alabaster (2008); access to water decreases when quantity, cost and burden of fetching water is considered.

This was corroborated by JMP 2008 report which notes that when drinking water is not available in the home or close to it, the time taken to collect water (that is, to go to the source, stand in line, fill water containers and return home) is critical in determining whether a household can obtain enough water for drinking, food preparation and personal hygiene.

JMP 2008 further underscores that studies have found that if the time spent collecting drinking water is between 3 and 30 minutes, the amount collected is fairly constant and suitable to meet basic needs – defined as between 15 and 25 liters per person per day. However, if the total time taken per round trip exceeds 30 minutes, people tend to collect less water, thus compromising their basic drinking water needs.

The JMP 2008 also notes that the MDG indicator does not include a measure for time taken to collect water. However, some argue that, because it is a factor in drinking water use, the time needed to collect water should be considered when determining whether a source is ‘improved’ or not. Data from 35 recent household surveys show that 18 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa relies on an improved drinking water source that is more than 30 minutes away.

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