Addressing The Effects Of Poor Water Quality On Women’s Health In Tanzania

Tanzania grapples with a severe water and sanitation crisis that profoundly affects a significant portion of its 65 million inhabitants. Astonishingly, a staggering 88% of the population, equivalent to 58 million individuals, lacks access to safe drinking water, while 74%, or 49 million people, endure the absence of adequate toilets. 

This crisis is compounded by various challenges, including chronic underfunding of government initiatives, extreme weather events driven by climate change, such as altered water patterns and erratic rainfall, and the relentless growth of the population, particularly among those living in poverty. 

For years, Tanzania has struggled with water scarcity, especially in rural areas where the situation is most dire. According to a report by WHO/UNICEF (2004), one out of every six Tanzanians lacks access to clean drinking water. Additionally, UNICEF data reveals that 27% of individuals in the least developed countries, like Tanzania, lack basic sanitation services, such as a handwashing facility with water and soap at home. 

Access to clean water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) systems is crucial for public health and overall well-being. However, many Tanzanian mothers and children endure arduous daily journeys, waking up as early as 5 a.m. to trek 2 to 3 kilometers in search of water from public taps or natural streams. Carrying heavy containers weighing 20 to 25 liters each, these women endure significant physical strain and health risks. 

In addition to the egregious early morning expeditions, Tanzanians often resort to using contaminated water from shallow wells, springs, and rivers polluted by mining activities and agricultural runoff. Consequently, women and girls bear the brunt of the health risks, limited educational opportunities, and bleak economic prospects resulting from this crisis. Women and young leaders across the world have had something to say about this. Eugenia Boateng, a Ghanaian American media personality and women’s advocate who is studying International Affairs and Africana studies underscores the significance of clean water access, “Having access to clean and safe resources has been negatively translated into being privileged, yet we must recognize this as a basic human right and fight for it.” When women lack access to clean water, they often resort to using contaminated water sources for washing and cleaning menstrual materials, such as cloth pads or reusable menstrual cups. This can lead to infections and reproductive health issues, as bacteria and pathogens present in dirty water can cause vaginal infections and other complications. Additionally, inadequate access to water for personal hygiene during menstruation can result in discomfort, embarrassment, and social stigma for women and girls, impacting their overall well-being and quality of life. Studies have shown that improved access to clean water and sanitation facilities is essential for promoting menstrual hygiene management and reducing the health risks associated with menstruation. 

Eugenia truly empathizes for the women of East Africa, drawing parallels to her own family’s experiences and calling for action to break the cycle of suffering. “It is truly astonishing and heartbreaking that my fellow sisters and elders in Tanzania are experiencing the repetitive cycles

that my parents had to live through. Dedicating numerous hours fetching for a resource that should be at their convenient disposal is taking away time from their studies, their families, and in the long run — accomplishing their dreams. I ponder, when will we see a change?” 

Boateng’s research sheds light on past governmental efforts to address the water crisis in Tanzania, dating back to the 1971 Rural Water Supply Program. However, subsequent initiatives, including the National Water Policy in 1991 and interventions prompted by pressure from the World Bank in 2003, have fallen short of expectations. Privatization attempts, such as the involvement of the British corporation Biwater, have failed to alleviate the crisis, exacerbating the situation instead. 

In recent years we have seen significant strides in the efforts of nonprofits and corporations alike. WaterAid, an international NGO that works to improve access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene worldwide has implemented various projects to provide clean water sources and sanitation facilities to rural communities, thereby improving public health and reducing the burden on women and children. Another impactful organization is Charity: Water, which focuses on funding sustainable water projects in developing countries. Through its initiatives, Charity: Water has helped thousands of Tanzanians gain access to clean and safe drinking water. Additionally, local initiatives such as Maji Safi Kwa Afya Bora, a Tanzanian NGO, have played a crucial role in promoting hygiene and sanitation practices in rural areas, contributing to long-term solutions for the water crisis. These efforts highlight the importance of collaboration between international and local organizations in addressing complex global challenges. Boateng contends that with the right governmental aid, paired with the humanitarian efforts of those who do in fact have access to the necessary resources, it is possible to address the pressing health issues facing Tanzanian women and completely obliterate the current narrative of the many crises constraining the country. “We can actively put our foot forward in establishing a healthier and more sustainable socioeconomic civilization for the generations to come,” says Boateng.

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