Water access and sanitation shape birth outcomes and earning potential
Spending more time per day fetching water increased Indian women’s risk of delivering a low birth-weight baby, a study has said.
It suggests physical and psychosocial stress are possible mechanisms by which water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) access affects pre-term births (PTB) and low birth-weight (LBW) among Indian women.
"What we think is most likely is that carrying heavy loads of water requires a lot of calories, and that many women aren’t consuming enough healthy food during pregnancy to sustain the micronutrient needs to grow a healthy baby," said study co-author Kelly Baker, an assistant professor of occupational and environmental health.
Pregnant women need to consume 300 extra calories per day of nutritious food to give the foetus adequate nutrition.
The present study contributes to the limited evidence related to environmental causes of PTB and LBW by demonstrating that lack of household WASH infrastructure and social factors, like crime and harassment of women and girls, are risk factors for adverse birth outcomes in women in low- and middle-income countries, the researchers write.
The survey asked women about their drinking water source, walking time to that source, time spent fetching water, sanitation (toilet) access, harassment of women and girls and local crime among other queries.
Of these women, 14.9 percent experienced premature birth and 15.5 percent delivered a low birth weight baby.
Gendered roles of water usage In November, India restructured its National Rural Drinking Water Programme with a goal to reach 90 percent of rural households with piped water by 2022.
Despite women’s significant role in water use and household management, their needs and uses of water are not often represented in water resource management policies or projects, according to a 2017 study co-authored by Maheshwari which looked at the gendered roles and responsibilities of water usage and collection in two watersheds of rural India.
Further, the outcome highlighted the need for planners and policy decision makers to recognise the diverse roles that women play in groundwater use and management.