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.
The “K” stands for kilometer. 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.
The walk for water in sub-Saharan Africa
But that’s not how it’s done in sub-Saharan 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. More than 3 million children and nearly 14 million women walk more than 30 minutes to collect water. 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’s 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 the 44 pounds an African woman carries on her head in a 20-liter jerrycan. You see, carrying water is not just difficult, it’s a lifelong pain in the neck or back that sometimes causes serious health problems.
But would that 20-liter jerrycan be enough water for your family to drink, cook, bathe, and wash for a day? No way. Fifteen liters a day is considered a bare minimum water supply for only one person. You might have to walk to the waterhole many times a day for more than that. Knowing that puts those 200 million hours in perspective, doesn’t it?
How you can help end the global water crisis
So now that you know more about the walk for water of people in sub-Saharan Africa and many other developing countries around the world, what can you do about it?
Join others to walk or run World Vision’s Global 6K for Water on Saturday, May 16, 2020, so that one more person will enjoy life-changing clean water without having to walk 6K for it. Your $50 registration benefits World Vision’s water initiatives. You’ll receive a World Vision Global 6K for Water T-shirt, race bib with the face of a child you’re running for (hint: you can continue the relationship with the child on your bib by sponsoring them), and medal in the mail. Map out a route in your neighborhood or attend a larger gathering at a host site. Sign up here!
Every step you take is one they don’t have to
Walk the Global 6K for Water, and you’ll help bring clean, safe water to kids like these. Each child holds a water jug they’ve chosen — the bigger the child, the bigger the jug. Their faces reflect optimism and strength beyond their circumstances.
Cheru, 5, grabs her mom’s tea kettle to gather water. A first-year kindergartener, she’s excited to join the big kids in school. Cheru’s often sick, says her mother, Monica. She’s worried her daughter won’t be able to keep up with the other kids and will fall behind in school.
Dina is excited to share her love of school with Cheru. “I will take her every day,” she says. After school, Dina gathers firewood and helps her mother wash dishes.
Cheru’s brother, William, keeps an eye out for his sisters as the children walk the dry riverbed to the waterhole. There they’ll wait in line to take their turn digging for water and shoo away goats, cows, and camels.
Here’s how Catheryn carries her jug. It’s slippery and round, so it’s hard to hold. A clever mom made straps for it by unraveling threads from a feed bag and weaving them into rope.
Pius shoulders a big jerrycan, one he might not be able to lift if it were full. For the walk to school, he may only fill it part way and pass it off to a friend after awhile.
Petro runs quickly to find a jug and a scrap of plastic bag to seal the lid. He knows not to spill a drop; every little bit counts when you walk so far for water.
Christina has a water jug that’s just the right size to take to school. When they get past lower grades, girls in schools that lack water and toilets often drop out. They may be embarrassed and find it difficult to manage menstruation.
There’s no bathing at home because water is scarce. Mussa’s dirty elbows and scalp will just have to do. If there’s time after he digs for water, he can splash a little bit.
Sweet-faced Malome carries her share of the water needed at school and home. Without a reliable source of clean, safe water close to home, her family will continue to face poverty and illness.
How much does that jerrycan weigh, Samuel? Filled with water — scooped from a waterhole cup by cup — it weighs more than 20 pounds. Mom needs twice that much daily for cooking, drinking, and washing dishes.
Enoch would rather have his bow and arrow in hand and be out with boys looking for birds to shoot. He’d pretend to track a hyena or fox to protect the goats and cows like dad. Instead he carries water for mom.
It’s all a game to little Dakta. While he’s not old enough to go to school, he’ll learn soon enough that the most important and time-consuming thing to do each day is carrying water.
“Wait for me,” he says. One more little guy grabs a jerrycan and rushes to keep up with the big kids on their daily 6K walk for water.
Want to learn more? 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.