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Transforming Lives: The Ripple Effect of Safe Water Access in Rural Communities

Access to safe water in rural communities is fundamental for socio-economic development. The positive impact of safe water initiatives has been well-documented by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and through independent academic research. This blog synthesizes key findings from seven studies highlighting the multifaceted impacts of improved water access on rural communities' health and socio-economic well-being.


WHO’s perspective

Globally, 2.1 billion people lack ‘safely managed’ drinking water, including 785m people without ‘basic’ drinking water services, of whom four out of five live in rural areas (UNICEF/WHO, 2019).


Safe drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene are crucial to human health and well-being. Safe WASH is a health prerequisite, contributes to livelihoods, school attendance and dignity and helps create resilient communities living in healthy environments. Drinking unsafe water impairs health through illnesses such as diarrhoea, and untreated excreta contaminates groundwaters and surface waters used for drinking-water, irrigation, bathing and household purposes. Safe and sufficient WASH plays a key role in preventing numerous NTDs such as trachoma, soil-transmitted helminths and schistosomiasis. Diarrhoeal deaths as a result of inadequate WASH were reduced by half during the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) period (1990–2015), with the significant progress on water and sanitation provision playing a key role.


Evidence suggests that improving service levels towards safely managed drinking-water or sanitation such as regulated piped water or connections to sewers with wastewater treatment can dramatically improve health by reducing diarrhoeal disease deaths.


Academic research

The academic evidence is strong. A meta-study about the effectiveness of interventions to improve drinking water, sanitation, and handwashing with soap, including 124 studies providing 83 water (62 616 children), 20 sanitation (40 799 children), and 41 hygiene (98 416 children) found that compared with untreated water from an unimproved source, risk of diarrhoea was reduced by up to 50% with water treated at point of use, solar treatment and chlorination. Next, compared with an unimproved source, provision of an improved drinking water supply on premises with higher water quality reduced diarrhoea risk by 52%. Another key finding from the study states that promotion of handwashing with soap reduced diarrhoea risk by 30%.


Similarly, a study by WaterAid Madagascar underscores the economic and social benefits of improved water and sanitation services in rural Madagascar. Their findings suggest a positive correlation between safe water access and increased wealth, productivity, and reduced healthcare costs. Additionally, improved water access is associated with higher school attendance rates, particularly benefiting women and children, and fosters community organization through the establishment of Water Committees, ensuring project sustainability.


Another study focusing on drinking water supply in rural Africa, based on a mini-grid energy system, highlights the cost-effectiveness and socio-economic benefits of water treatment plants. Access to safe drinking water not only enhances local well-being but also serves as a model for similar initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa.


Furthermore, similar research conducted by World Bank on water supply, sanitation, and hygiene promotion emphasizes the significant reduction in diarrheal diseases, positively impacting public health and economic productivity. In rural Indonesia, the socio-economic impact study of a solar water pumping system reveals community involvement in renewable energy projects fosters knowledge dissemination and financial savings, albeit with limited direct welfare improvements.


Similarly, a study in rural Pakistan illustrates the strong influence of water access quality on household well-being, highlighting the need for improved water supply strategies to enhance rural livelihoods. Moreover, the health impact of small-community water supply reliability underscores the role of reliable water systems in reducing diarrheal disease incidence, with potential gains from occasional household water treatment during supply failures.

Lastly, a meta-analysis of water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions in less developed countries demonstrates the effectiveness of various interventions in reducing diarrheal illness, with point-of-use water treatment showing particular efficacy.

These studies collectively emphasize the critical role of safe water access in fostering socio-economic development in rural communities. From improved health outcomes to enhanced livelihoods and educational opportunities, investing in water infrastructure yields substantial benefits. Policymakers and stakeholders should prioritize sustainable water initiatives to uplift rural communities and promote overall well-being.


Project Maji’s evidence-based approach

Project Maji’s successful interventions echo the impacts outlined above. Moreover, we follow a diligent evidence-based approach whereby we quantify those impacts. The scope of this internal research reaches over 60+ communities and demonstrates the huge socio-economic and health improvements of communities that received Project Maji’s solar-powered water kiosks. Please review our live Dashboard, presented on our website for the public to view https://www.projectmaji.org/impact and keep supporting the important work we do at https://www.projectmaji.org/donate

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