In developing countries, both in urban and rural areas, the collection of water is often the responsibility of women. Many must walk for miles to the nearest well or stream, and must devote a large portion of each day to this chore. In some cases, girls stop going to school at a young age in order to help with the task. In Subsaharan Africa, 58% of the population lives 30 minutes away on foot from a drinking water supply and only 16% have a piped water connection at home, according to UNICEF.
The relationship between water and poverty is marked. On a global scale, 2.6 billion men and women—half of the population of the world’s developing countries—live without a basic standard of sanitation, and 1.1 billion people—17% of the world’s population—do not have access to safe drinking water. Diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and dysentery, which are transmitted through poor quality water in the absence of proper sanitation, cause the deaths of 3,900 children under age of five every day. Behind this death toll lie millions more children who are sick, disabled, or unable to attend school. Simple hygiene measures (washing the hands after using the toilet and before preparing food) would prevent many of these deaths, so education also has a vital role to play.
In developed countries, almost 100% of people have access to drinking water. Nonetheless, the quality of this water is threatened by the presence of pesticides, chemical residues, and nitrates. In France, for example, 25% of groundwater and 15—20% of water courses are polluted and of poor quality.
Worries about water quality have led to a rise in consumption of bottled mineral water. However, in Western nations, this is the often of no better quality than tap water and is certainly not eco-friendly. Its transportation, refrigeration, and plastic packaging consume a great deal of energy: the equivalent of a tenth of a gallon of oil for one bottle.