Household Water Resources and Rural Productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review of the Evidence

S. Rosen; J.R. Vincent, Harvard Institute for International Development, Cambridge Mass., 1999

The benefits and costs of providing a safe, convenient, and reliable water supply to households in the developing world have been the subject of a vast and wide-ranging research effort for at least four decades. Despite the quantity of studies carried out, relatively little is known about a number of key aspects of household water use. In particular, the productivity cost to households of having an inadequate water supply, measured in terms of the quantity and quality of labor lost as a result, has rarely been examined carefully. There is also relatively little known about water use in rural areas, as most research has focused on the developing world’s rapidly expanding cities. Among the regions of the world, both of these research gaps are most acute for sub-Saharan Africa, the region whose population is the most rural and has the least access to an improved water supply.

This paper reviews and summarizes the results of studies of household water use in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa that offer clues to the effects of household water resources on rural productivity. Findings are presented on the extent of household access to safe water supplies, household water use, the costs of water-related diseases, the time costs of collecting water from distance sources, and the costs and benefits of interventions to improve household water supplies.

  • Most studies indicate that household water use in sub-Saharan Africa averages only about 10 liters/person/day, far less than is needed for proper hygiene practices.
  • Water-related diseases account for between 10 percent and 12 percent of all morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Households (and primarily women) spend an average of 134 minutes/day collecting water, and time saved by bringing water supplies closer to households is likely to dominate estimates of the benefits of improving rural water supplies.
  • Data on the current and future costs of water-related diseases; the opportunity cost of time spent collecting water and lost to sickness or caring for the sick; and what kinds of water supply, sanitation, and hygiene interventions, in what sequence, produce the greatest health benefits are poor, and further research on these issues is needed.

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Suggested Books

Africa Report : Water and the rural poor Water and Sanitation Resources Malawi : Household access to microcredit and food security for children Africa Environment Report : Economy and climate change in sub-Saharan Africa Africa Health Manual : Solar water disinfection

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