For billions of people worldwide, sufficient, safe and sustainably managed water is not something they can take for granted. And the limited resources they have at their disposal are under increasing threat from a range of climate-related, infrastructural and political reasons. This is more evident among the most vulnerable populations who often suffer the most. However, until recently, researchers and policymakers were not able to track inequalities in living in a water secure environment in a globally comparable way.
Northwestern University and UNESCO are working with Gallup to expand surveys that include the Household Water Insecurity Experiences (HWISE) scale to 31 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. With nationally representative surveys in all of these countries, including India, China and Brazil, researchers will now be able to benchmark water insecurity among roughly half the world's adult population.
Map. 31 countries are planned to be surveyed for water insecurity experiences in 2020: Mauritius, Guatemala, Honduras, Congo-Brazzaville, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Uganda, Ghana, Zambia, Namibia, China, Brazil, Guinea, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, India, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria.
The HWISE scale provides insights into how problems with water shape the daily lives of average people, such as diet, hygiene, and even interpersonal relationships. It also illustrates how water security varies across cultural, political and geographical settings. Using the HWISE scale gives researchers, policymakers and analysts a deeper understanding of a number of other potential issues related to access to water and how populations use the resource. These include:
- The relationship between access to water and wellbeing
- How gender and other socioeconomic factors affect water security
- How water insecurity relates to food insecurity
The HWISE survey is planned to be repeated in 2021, with a further expansion of the number of countries. This information will provide a deeper understanding of how people across the entire world access and use water and how that is changing across time, revealing the pockets of vulnerability and water insecurity that exist.
By exploring access to safe water and other related topics, policymakers will be able to pinpoint where and among whom water insecurity is most acute, prioritize resources, and develop interventions tailored to specific countries, regions, cities, and villages. They will also be able to track progress toward achieving water security.
Andrew Rzepa is a Partner at Gallup.
Dr. Sera L. Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University; she is also a Carnegie Fellow.
Dr. Alexandros Makarigakis is Programme Specialist and Global Coordinator for Water for Human Settlements at UNESCO.