The Devastating Effects of Water Shortages on the Lives of Girls.

Sophie Ngassa
Posted March 30, 2017 from Cameroon
Girls going to fetch water along distance from home.
Going up and down a very steep hill in search of water.

Each year more than 2.2 million people in developing countries die from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.Today, millions of people live without a safe water supply close to their homes inCameroon. This same group of people are coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water.

During the last seven years in my neighborhood, I met many adolescent girls who told me disturbing stories on water related challenges they faced in their daily life. These challenges include: absence from classes due to ill health caused by water related diseases, unwanted pregnancies caused by rape resulting from sexual harassment and abuse on their way to fetch water and intense labor in transporting water on their heads for long distances-spending countless hours queuing or trekking to a water sources. These challenges have caused most girls to lose interest in pursuing an education; with the consequence of high rates in female dropouts in the rural areas and some semi-urban areas of Cameroon.

Research reports show that some cultural beliefs keep girls at home where they are particularly attached to domestic chores such as fetching water. The girl child living in this cultural context does not have equal chances to attend school like her male peers. In cases where they actually get a chance to attend school, they enter the classroom already very tired from their over commitment to household chores. Thus preventing them from enjoying equal chances to education as her male peers. In some parts of Cameroon, the woman’s role, as predetermined by existing cultures, is to stay at home, run the household and then bear children.

Despite the milestones technology has achieved in the recent past to make life easy, as I look around my community I realize that there are few households that have access to safe and clean water. In addition, water stored at home is frequently contaminated due to absence of adequate water management facilities and techniques at home.

The inadequate supply of water is one of the principal causes of poverty in developing countries as it affects the basic needs, health, food security and livelihoods of many.

As girls are expected to be domestics, an education is considered unnecessary or a secondary aspect. Girls are raised with the understanding that they will only be allowed to attend school up to a certain grade level, then they have to quit school, return home, help with domestic chores and then marry. Some impoverished parents try to support the education of all their children, but in most cases, they are financially unable to pay the fees. In such cases, the boy child is sent to school while the girl child stays at home to help with the house chores. Most girls end up in early marriages with an older man, with total consent of their parents.

It even gets worst in the dry season, which becomes a dreaded time of the year. Natural sources dry up and bottled water is unaffordable, so well water becomes the only solution.

The girls are the most vulnerable and exposed to diseases. Nothing is so heart breaking as to hear the despair in a young girl’s voice when she tells you that she has no future and no dreams of her own..

The onset of menses creates additional challenges for the young girls. Due to the lack of facilities at school and at home, menstrual hygiene is difficult to manage. The young girls has been robbed of all her hopes and dreams at a time in life which should be one of joy: the advent of womanhood. The beginning of menstruation signifies the passage of youth into adulthood and obviously intense body hygiene is required at this stage.

Rape and sexual abuse are constant, yet the girls dare not talk about the ill treatment as her allegations will be denied. The girls are mocked and tormented with name calling while the guilty parties are allowed to go free of punishment.

As I witnessed more and more of these depressive cases, I felt the urgent need to add my voice to the voices of these girls. I started travelling to other sub divisions and continued to hear similar stories or some that were actually worse.

I strongly agree that improved access to water is a major contribution towards poverty alleviation.

Yes, Water is life and the World Water Day is on 22 March every year. We need to take concrete action to tackle the worst forms of water crisis.

The contrast in water supply in different communities in Cameroon, water abundance in some communities and marked scarcity in others, has determined this year`s World Water Day theme: Why waste water? It examines the possibilities involved in reducing and reusing waste water. If we are to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 6.3:'improve water qualityby reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe re-use globally' by 2030, we need to manage our water during every stage of the water cycle: from fresh water extraction, pre-treatment and distribution through to post-treatment and the use of wastewater

Interestingly, girls are the most affected by the lack of sanitation facilities and safe water. They bear the brunt of poor health and the security risks that arise when they are forced to look for corners to hide to urinate and defecate. The absence of water for cleaning hands and drinking is one of the main causes of mortality and illness.

I have contributed in my little way to change this situation as thought it wise to be an 'agent of change' in this field. In 2014 after attending the Techwomen program I created a platform for women in my community to look into water and sanitation issues. Leading Women in Water and Technology (LWWT) is a group of women in Bamenda who are willing to contribute to development by helping improve people’s living standards through proper training in WASH. It’s an honorable thing to educate people on the importance of drinking safe water, using a latrine and washing hands etc

LWWT is a forum to learn, teach, share and exchange methods water resources management to increase access to adequate and safe water. The vision is to build a society where everyone especially women have access to safe drinking water and water to meet their basic needs in order to save time and energy resources by improved communication technology.

I have worked in 3 communities. I am involved in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) initiatives, so I can contribute to the development of my community by helping improve people’s living standards through proper community health. But there is muchto be done.

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This story was submitted in response to Water.

Comments 4

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nessa s
Mar 30, 2017
Mar 30, 2017

I am glad you have brought this to our attention. It is particularly horrible when girls do not have sheltered toilets and washing facilities and this should always be a priority. N.

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear nessa,

It is really horrible.

" At a local level in many societies, women play a central role in providing water supply and sanitation. They have primary responsibility for the management of household water supply, sanitation and health" (UN Water, 2006). But women are the most affected by lack of water.

bejucowoman
Apr 01, 2017
Apr 01, 2017

The role and safety of women and girls in accessing the basic need of water is an important priority for communities. Taking any steps to educate and improve access to clean drinking water, as you state, improves the quality of life for women and girls and in turn, for their communities.

Sophie Ngassa
Apr 05, 2017
Apr 05, 2017

Dear bejucowoman,

Thanks for your comment, it is very true.Women are more vulnerable to water-related diseases since they are more exposed as water carriers and their important role in carrying out domestic chores (preparing food, cleaning toilets, washing clothes, etc.).

In addition, women lose a lot of time fetching water, which has a negative impact on their personal and family life and economic status .Thank you.