Walk for water: Your 6K vs. theirs

With her baby on her back and toddler by her side, a Kenyan mother walks in a dry riverbed in Kenya to dig for water at least twice a day, a distance of about 8K (4 miles).

Every day, women and girls spend 200 million hours walking to collect water for their families. That’s 8.3 million days. More than 22,800 years. It’s hard to get your head around numbers that large, so start instead with 6K.

6K, a little more than 3.7 miles, is the average distance round trip women and children in the developing world walk for water — water that is often contaminated with life-threatening diseases.

How far is 6K?

  • 15 laps around a football field
  • Twice the length of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. — from the Lincoln Memorial to the steps of the U.S. Capitol and back again
  • Five times the number of steps to climb the Empire State Building

You could do that, right? (Well, maybe not the climbing part; that would be hard.)

You could probably walk 6K in an hour and 15 minutes. On a flat, smooth sidewalk, most people can walk a mile in 17 to 20 minutes. At a brisk walk, you could shave off the 15 minutes. If you’re a runner, you could cover the distance in half that time.

Easy peasy.

But that’s not how it’s done in developing countries in Africa. There, people don’t have access to an improved water source. Moms and daughters walk their 6K barefoot or in rubber sandals to collect water from polluted rivers and ponds. And they often make that trip more than once a day!

Maybe they climb up steep hills or over rocks, slide down a steep gully, or circle around thorn trees. There may be snakes and bees or people who want to rob them, or worse — lying in wait along the way.

On the way home from the water source, it gets even harder.

You know what it’s like to carry a gallon of milk from the car to the kitchen counter? Try a gallon in each hand at 8.6 pounds each, and the total weight is less than half of the 44 pounds an African woman carries on her head in a 20-liter jerry can.

Would that be enough water for your family to drink, cook, bathe, and wash for a day? Maybe like millions of other women you’d have to walk to the waterhole many times; it quickly adds up to those 200 million hours, doesn’t it?

For more information: Read what Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says about the “time poverty” experienced by women and girls in the developing world because of time-consuming tasks like carrying water and collecting firewood.

Clean Water

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