In the inaugural post of the CGP Water Series, CGP described how the global water crisis has a wide range of repercussions beyond the obvious consequences of health and disease. A new study by Céline Nauges and Jon Strand highlights one such unexpected effect: the troubling relationship between water access and school enrollment.
“Water hauling and girls’ school attendance: Some new evidence from Ghana” examines how changes in water collection time affect school enrollment rates in communities across Ghana. Based on a statistical analysis of data collected over the span of fifteen years, Nauges and Strand argue that as a little as a fifteen minute reduction in the time it takes to access water increases girls’ school attendance by 8-12%.
Featured by the World Bank’s Water Partnership Program, the study analyzes four rounds of Ghana’s Demographic and Health Survey. When the first round of surveys were administered in 1993, only about 54% of Ghana’s citizens had access to an “improved” water source—ones in which water is separated from human fecal matter. When the last round of surveys were taken in 2008, that figure had increased to 83%. Much of this improvement took place in rural areas, where the proportion of the population with water access doubled from 37% to 74%.
Despite these advances, however, the percentage of households with a water source on the premises (usually through a tap or well) stayed nearly constant during this period, barely changing from 17% in 1993 to 18% in 2003. As a result, data from as late as 2008 suggests that households still spend on average 19 minutes each day to collect water, an increase of one minute from surveys conducted fifteen years earlier.
Nauges and Strand hone in on this last statistic, and they find statistical evidence to suggest that reductions in water collection time had significant impacts on girl’s school enrollment, even after controlling for wealth and the number of children. For communities whose water collection time was over 30 minutes, a fifteen minute reduction was associated was a 12% increase in school enrollment. Even when water collection time was under twenty minutes, a fifteen minute reduction resulted in an 8% increase.
Why focus on girls? It has been well-documented that women, and often girls, bear the brunt of water collection in developing societies across the globe. Simply put, time spent fetching water is time not spent working or going to school. But beyond this superficial explanation, greater access to an improved water source also decreases the likelihood of water-borne diseases like trichuriasis or diahrrea, both of which can keep girls out of school. (One additional factor that prevents girls from attending school is the lack of adequate sanitation facilities in schools, which proves particularly troublesome during that time of month. Ghana, which has only 13% sanitation coverage, could use some work.)
Fifteen minutes. For you, it’s a shower or a visit to Starbucks. For others, it’s a world of opportunity.