Hesperian Health Guides

Safe Water Transport

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 6: Protecting Community Water > Safe Water Transport

Care must be taken to keep water safe and clean while it is being moved from its source to where people need it. Carrying water is some of the hardest daily work done in any community, and it is often done by women and girls. Carrying heavy loads of water on the head, on the back, or with a head strap can lead to frequent headaches, backache, harm to the spine, and can cause a pregnant woman to lose her baby due to strain.

Water improvement projects can reduce this burden. Sometimes simple changes can make it easier to carry water. Water systems can be built so there will be no need to carry water long distances. And homes can be built closer to the water source. Community health will improve if men understand the importance of this work in family life and share the tasks of collecting and carrying water.

Piped water

There are many advantages to a piped water system. Piped water reduces the risk of contamination and there are fewer places for snails and mosquitoes to live. However, a piped water system that is poorly built and used unsafely may make water contamination worse than no system at all. A piped water system must be planned carefully, with an understanding of how much water is needed and available now, and how much water may be needed in the future as your community grows.

A woman points to water spouting from the ground by a man holding a pickaxe.
An important part of any piped water system is making sure that someone is responsible for fixing damage to the pipes.

Water can be piped from almost any water source, but springs and reservoirs are the most common. The least costly source is one that is uphill from the community, so that gravity will carry the water downhill. Most piped water systems bring the water to a large storage tank. The tank may be treated with chlorine or have a filter attached to treat the water. Water is then piped from the storage tank to taps in people's homes or to public water taps around the community.

A piped water system needs regular maintenance. Keeping records of where pipes are laid can prevent accidents and make it easier to find and repair broken pipes. Leaking pipes can waste a lot of water, draw in sewage and other contamination from the soil, and make breeding grounds for mosquitoes and snails. If pipes have been fixed with jute, hemp, cotton, or leather, germs may grow on these things and contaminate the water inside the pipes.

Women and men talk about water
2 women wash clothes at a wash basin as another woman fills a bucket at a tap and a child pours water over a toddler.

When the water committee in a small Mexican village planned to pipe water to the village from a large spring, they decided they had enough money to install a shared tap for every 2 houses. At the village assembly the men from the water committee announced that the taps would be used to provide water for drinking and cooking. This was good for the village, they said, because now the women would not spend all day carrying water from the river and boiling it to make it safe to drink.

A woman at the assembly stood up and asked, "What about washing clothes?" One of the men from the water committee said, "You can continue to wash clothes in the river as you always have done." A second woman stood up and asked, "What about bathing our children?" The man said, "You can continue to bathe the children in the river as you always have done." A third woman stood up and asked, "What about our home gardens? We need water to grow vegetables."

The women felt their voices had not been heard. They said there was not a single woman on the water committee and so women's needs would not be met. The women demanded that they be allowed to join the water committee and help make a new plan. The rest of the assembly agreed.

The new water committee made a different plan. Rather than a tap for every 2 houses, they would install a tap and a wash basin for every 6 houses. Though the women would still walk to collect water, they would also be able to wash clothes, bathe children, and clean maize right in the village. The tap would be used for drinking water and the washbasin for everything else. This would help make sure that the drinking water stayed clean. And they would use the wastewater from the washbasin to water their home gardens.

The plan was popular among the men as well because it would give them a place to wash their tools when they returned from the cornfields each day. In this way, the villagers met many of their needs at once.