UN experts warn: poor water quality causes gender discrimination

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Exposing the invisible – that’s the title of an alarming new report prepared by the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU INWEH). The study shows that poor water quality and deficiencies in hygiene and sanitation, typical of developing countries, particularly affect women and girls. And the health risks from them are enormous and include, among others. Malaria and infertility.

A few words about the report itself

The UN report is based on research conducted in the Nigerian city of Abeokuta. Nigeria is 32nd. the world’s largest country, and its population occupies 5. position in terms of numbers among countries with low and medium GDP. At the same time, the problems of clean water supply, resulting from both climate change and pollution from industry, agriculture and uncontrolled urbanization, are very evident here. Up to 60 million people do not have access to drinking water, and 167 million are beyond the reach of sanitation infrastructure.

For researchers, Nigeria has become an example to analyze the impact that poor water quality has on the health of the population, especially women. Water samples were taken for testing from hand dug wells, boreholes, surface water and sachets distributed to the public. Risks associated with pathogens and selected chemicals were assessed in the context of gender and socioeconomic status. The results are alarming.

Poor water quality and health risks

There are four different ways in which poor water quality can harm a person. The first is pathogens consumed directly – these include. typhoid bacilli. Further concern the water used for washing and diseases caused by microorganisms residing in the water environment, such as schistosomiasis. A fourth type of threat is vectors that develop over bodies of water, including mosquitoes that carry malaria, for example.

Water samples taken in Nigeria found, among other things. bacteria that cause cholera, salmonella, shigellosis and various types of diarrhea. The overall hardness of the water was also noted, which negatively affects the condition of the skin and promotes the development of infections. In summary, poor water quality and water-related vectors were responsible for more than 66 percent of the water. diseases affecting local society. However, the phenomenon was not evenly distributed, with 69 percent of malaria cases identified during the 15 months of the study. involved women, and in 31 percent. men. In the case of diarrhea, the disparity was 82 to 18 percent!

It is women who carry the burden

UN analysis shows that even in these harsh conditions, women are more likely than men to wash their hands and take better care of their personal hygiene. So why this increased health risk? The authors of the report suggest that it is a consequence of inequality in access to sanitation facilities and the burden of responsibilities associated with… water donation. It is women and girls who are involved in carrying buckets and bottles, exposing themselves to direct contact with pathogens and the mosquitoes that spread them. The situation is exacerbated by extreme physical exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and the risk of attacks and rape they experience on their way to the source. But the bad news doesn’t end there – it is women who are entrusted with the task of washing and disinfecting makeshift toilets, exposing them to the harmful effects of chemical volatile compounds.

Menstruation increases health risks

The biggest injustice associated with water restrictions is, of course, menstruation. UN research has shown that access to clean hygiene products, the ability to change them frequently and to wash safely are major problems in countries like Nigeria. Out of 100 women, 6 change their sanitary pads only once a day, while 47 percent. 2 times a day.

Waterlogging with water from boreholes and hand-digged wells during menstruation is associated with a number of health risks. These primarily include genitourinary infections, skin infections, and hepatitis B. In the long run, these hygienic risks translate into problems conceiving a child and pregnancy complications.

In the report’s conclusions, there was a pressing need for a system of control over local sources. Poor water quality in developing countries is a serious problem that requires educational efforts and incentives to implement protocols aimed at reducing health risks, with special attention to the needs of girls and women.

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