Monday, April 7, 2008

Water 102: Water Distribution

Men, women, and children rush to get water from a well in Ethiopia (photo credit: Andrew Heavens)

Now that we've covered the processes involved in water treatment, the next stage is water distribution.

As stated in the Water 101: What is the Water Problem post, a huge part of the larger "water problem" is the transportation, storage, and distribution of clean water. In developed countries like the U.S, Canada, and most European countries, and urban parts of some developing countries, water is generally treated and distributed the same way. Its generally treated at a treatment plant, then distributed in pipes. The water usually comes disinfected and ready for drinking. People don't need to store the water, because the distribution system keeps the water clean and disinfected until you need it.* Once water comes in contact with contaminated areas or is exposed to the air, it gets contaminated.

Water flows out of a pipe in the UK countryside (photo credit: Martin Anataman)

*This may NOT be true of developing countries. Quite often there are water shortfalls, or the water distribution is so low that even in urban centers, families have their own boreholes that they pump water out of for use. They then regularly boil the water for drinking or order drinking water from wholesale providers.

In most developing countries, particularly in peri-urban, slum, semi-rural, and rural communities, water needs to collected from a central point (either from a tap, tubewell, borehole, river, lake, pond or other open water source), then carried to their homes. This is generally the work of women and children, who walk six miles (9.6 kms) to and from the water collection area. Water is heavy, weighing approximately 1 kg per litre or 8.34 lbs per gallon of water. Often the water collection and storage units are contaminated; if not, the pots or other collection units are open to the air and easily get contaminated. And finally when drinking the water, they dip their hands into the pots to get the water. Essentially, its very easy for water to get contaminated at any point.

In developing countries, people are responsible for the water collection, storage, and decontamination, which is why this is a major problem for them. The risk for illness and health issues resulting from lack of clean water or neck/head/back problems are very high. Therefore, besides availability of water, transportation and decontamination are major issues that need to be addressed when designing technology for developing countries.

L-R: A water truck carrying water into the periurban areas in Kenya (photo credit: Stig Nygaard); A line of colorful pots mark the queue for women and children in line to collect water in India (photo credit: McKay Savage).

Young women carry water back to their homes in Somalia (Copyright: Heather Arney / WaterPartners International)

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