Freshwater availability and water fetching distance affect child health in sub-Saharan Africa

Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Feb 21;46(4):2391-7. doi: 10.1021/es203177v. Epub 2012 Feb 9.


Currently, more than two-thirds of the population in Africa must leave their home to fetch water for drinking and domestic use. The time burden of water fetching has been suggested to influence the volume of water collected by households as well as time spent on income generating activities and child care. However, little is known about the potential health benefits of reducing water fetching distances. Data from almost 200, 000 Demographic and Health Surveys carried out in 26 countries were used to assess the relationship between household walk time to water source and child health outcomes. To estimate the causal effect of decreased water fetching time on health, geographic variation in freshwater availability was employed as an instrumental variable for one-way walk time to water source in a two-stage regression model. Time spent walking to a household's main water source was found to be a significant determinant of under-five child health. A 15-min decrease in one-way walk time to water source is associated with a 41% average relative reduction in diarrhea prevalence, improved anthropometric indicators of child nutritional status, and a 11% relative reduction in under-five child mortality. These results suggest that reducing the time cost of fetching water should be a priority for water infrastructure investments in Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Body Height
  • Body Weight
  • Child Mortality*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cough / epidemiology*
  • Diarrhea / epidemiology*
  • Drinking Water
  • Fever / epidemiology*
  • Fresh Water
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Walking / statistics & numerical data*
  • Water Supply / statistics & numerical data*


  • Drinking Water