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Water Quality Linked to Well-Being in Sub-Saharan Africa

Water Quality Linked to Well-Being in Sub-Saharan Africa

by Andrew Rzepa and Anita Pugliese

LONDON -- Sub-Saharan Africans are the least satisfied in the world with the quality of water in their communities, with a median of 50% satisfied across 38 African countries in 2011 and 2012. While this finding might not be that surprising for developing countries, sub-Saharan Africans' relatively low satisfaction may reveal more about the quality of their lives than does their household income and other measures alone.

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Satisfaction with water quality varies across sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from 30% in Sierra Leone, where the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation estimates 55% of the population uses improved drinking water resources, to 88% in Mauritius, where 99% of the population uses improved drinking water sources.

Satisfaction with water quality likely captures more than residents' contentment with potability, as people use water for a broad range of purposes, including cleaning, cooking, and washing. In fact, more sub-Saharan Africans surveyed in 2010 said they had enough clean drinking water than currently say they are satisfied with their water quality. But, given Gallup's earlier research linking clean drinking water and food security in sub-Saharan Africa, it is important to investigate how water quality may be affecting people's lives.

Lower Satisfaction With Water Quality a Sign of Worse Well-Being

Sub-Saharan Africans' satisfaction with the water quality in their communities is related to how they view their lives overall. Those who are dissatisfied with their water quality are nearly twice as likely to rate their lives poorly enough to be considered "suffering" than residents who are satisfied with their water quality. Further, those who are dissatisfied with water quality are substantially less likely to rate their lives well enough to be "thriving."

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Gallup classifies respondents as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Gallup considers people to be suffering if they rate their current lives a 4 or lower and their lives in five years a 4 or lower. The respondents do not label themselves as suffering.

Sub-Saharan Africans who are dissatisfied with the water quality in their city or area are also more likely to be dissatisfied with their health. Even though rural residents tend to be more dissatisfied with the quality of their water than urban residents, this relationship between dissatisfaction with quality of water and health still exists even after accounting for urbanicity.

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Water quality appears to affect people's lives beyond the scope of the variables it is often associated with -- namely income and urbanicity. The relationship between water quality and health and between water quality and well-being remains significant even after taking into account age, urbanicity, and household income.

Bottom Line

British Prime Minister David Cameron will evaluate the current Millennium Development Goals' successes in his role as co-chair of the panel tasked to produce a draft of the next set of development goals. Undoubtedly, access to clean drinking water is one of those success stories, with more than 2 billion people gaining access to improved drinking water sources between 1990 and 2010. Access to clean drinking water is only the beginning however, as Gallup's data reveal that a narrow focus on potability may miss the effect that a broader discussion on water quality may have on people's health and well-being worldwide.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2011 and 2012 in 38 sub-Saharan countries. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3.4 percentage points to a high of ±4.2 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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