4 Ways Clean Water Reduces Child Poverty

Child poverty is an urgent problem that demands a united and long-lasting solution.

In the world today, children are disproportionately affected by poverty. Of all the people living in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 a day) half of them are children.

Of those children, three-quarters live in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where the water and sanitation crisis has a stronghold. The good news is this: clean water and sanitation are reducing child poverty in lasting ways. Here’s how.

1. Parents Are Able to Work More.

Parents who spend their days gathering water or tending to children with waterborne diseases lose valuable work time.

For women in rural communities, who are usually the main water gatherers and the caregivers, time spent gathering water from faraway places significantly reduces the time they spend farming. With safe water nearby, it’s estimated that women could feed 150 million of the world’s hungry.

The WASH (water access, sanitation, and hygiene) economy also creates jobs.

To earn a Healthy Home certificate in Lifewater’s global programs, families adopt five sanitation and hygiene practices. One requirement is a bathroom with a roof, walls, and a door to give privacy and keep flies out.

Robert, a carpenter in Uganda, has made a living out of providing these custom doors for the new bathrooms in his community. Gideon, an 11-year-old, makes hand washing devices called “tippy taps” for his neighbors and uses the money to afford books for school.

When people can spend more time working and less time walking for water, they can produce more income. This provides opportunities for children, helping them escape child poverty.


2. Children’s Health Improves.

The latest research shows that diarrhea is the second leading cause of death for children under the age of five, causing more childhood deaths than malaria, AIDS, and measles combined.

Diarrhea is the central symptom of waterborne diseases, and child poverty is exacerbated by constant illness in communities who cannot get access to safe, sustainable water. Unsafe living conditions—like a lack of toilets to dispose waste—also contribute to the spread of disease.

Child Poverty

When children can drink safe water and practice sanitation and hygiene habits, lives are saved.

In the West Arsi zone of Ethiopia, communities who adopted five health and sanitation practices and received safe water successfully decreased prevalence of childhood diarrheal disease by 98 percent. That’s a virtual elimination of diarrheal disease and good news for children everywhere.


3. Greater Access to Education.

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 263 million children were not attending school in 2016.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the ‘out of school rate’ was over 20 percent for children in primary (elementary) school, meaning that one fifth of children who are of age to attend primary school are not currently enrolled because of extreme poverty.

As they get older, the numbers grow dramatically worse, with the out-of-school rate more than 50 percent for children in upper secondary school (high school).

In Uganda, Ethiopia, and Cambodia, families in Lifewater programs report that the top two reasons children miss school are because they are walking for water while class is in session, and/or they are sick from waterborne disease. Furthermore, children who don’t have access to safe water at school will leave class to get a drink of water, only increasing the amount of time children are not in school.

Child Poverty

When children get access to safe water in their communities, they get time to go to school. Parents no longer spend their incomes on medical fees for waterborne illness, and they can invest in tuition, uniforms, and school supplies.

4. Malnutrition Decreases.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 3 children will experience stunted growth because of poor nutrition and/or repeated infection. Stunted growth also affects cognitive ability, making it more difficult for children to excel in class.

Unsafe water and poor sanitation cause repeated bouts of diarrheal disease, which causes or exacerbates malnutrition, weakens the immune system, and makes other illnesses more likely.

When parents are able to work more, save, and purchase or grow more nourishing food for their children, malnutrition decreases. Parents are able to solve this problem for their children, and their children are protected from dangerous germs through WASH.

Clean Water Reduces Child Poverty

When household productivity increases, so do savings accounts, and families find that they are able to invest in their children’s future. Like you, we believe that every child deserves to drink safe water, to go to school, and to live a healthy life free from waterborne diseases.


Lifewater International is a non-profit clean water and community health organization. We’re Christians committed to helping children and families living in extreme poverty thrive. Learn more about Lifewater’s Vision of a Healthy Village program and the unique contributions local churches, governments, leaders, and families make to build a healthier and more productive future for their children.


Choose a Village. Change a Life.