’Water crisis in the Horn has devastating impact on women and girls’ – WaterAid

1 August 2022
Derekwa, Ethiopia. February 2020
Image: WaterAid/ Joey Lawrence

Over 18 million people in the region are at risk of food insecurity

Millions of girls and women across the Horn of Africa are feeling the deep impact of the ongoing water crisis in the region, WaterAid warned today, as they have to walk longer and further to collect water. This increases the risk of sexual abuse and of girls missing out on education, also due to the lack of access to water in school during their periods, or even dropping out altogether, WaterAid said.

The region is facing one of the largest water crises of this century, putting around 18.6 million people at risk of food insecurity and causing  a rise in malnutrition rates. Without basics such as water, sanitation and hygiene, people cannot build resilience to anything, especially climatic shocks such as prolonged droughts, WaterAid said.

According to the UN, at least 11.6 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia don’t have sufficient access to safe water to drink, cook, and clean with as existing waterpoints have dried out, or become unsafe, since the drought started in October 2020.

“Because women and girls are usually responsible for household chores, water collection and caring for family, water scarcity makes their day-to-day lives much harder”, said Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole, Regional Director for WaterAid in East Africa.

“The climate crisis exacerbates the devastating impact of widespread gender inequality and we see that playing out in the Horn. The world must act now to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change and avoid a generation of girls taking a lifetime to recover. Clean water close to home helps everyone,particularly women and girls, be more resilient to climate change. It means that people can stay disease free, go to school, earn a living and be more self-reliant.”

To address this threat, WaterAid works with women’s rights organisations in Ethiopia to ensure gender equality is embedded in climate change policies.

The impact of the water crisis is felt throughout all parts of society as farmers, herders, shopkeepers and medical facilities are all hit. WaterAid warned the lack of access to water can have detrimental effects on hygiene in health facilities. Without water nurses and doctors can’t wash their hands, meaning diseases can spread more easily.

“In the slipstream of the global COVID-19 outbreak, this should worry us deeply,” Bankole-Bolawole continued. “Clean water and something simple as hand washing helps to curb diseases and keep people healthy.”

In the run up to Africa Climate Week in August and COP27 later this year, WaterAid also urges richer nations to make good on the commitments they made at COP26 to at least double their financial support to developing countries and to prioritise clean water for the world’s most climate-vulnerable groups, particularly women and girls. 

To ensure women and girls have an equal role to play in helping communities adapt to climate change, leaders at COP27 must give them a seat at the table Governments must include them at all levels from community discussions to international negotiations. They also must be at the front of the queue for climate finance as they pay the price for a climate crisis they have done least to cause.


Notes to Editors: 

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WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and nearly 29 million people with decent toilets. 

For more information, visit our website wateraid.org/uk, follow us on Twitter @WaterAidUK, @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress, or find us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram

  1. WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation.  
  2. WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation.  
  3. WaterAid calculations based on: Prüss-Ustün A, et al. (2019). Burden of Disease from Inadequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Selected Adverse Health Outcomes: An Updated Analysis with a Focus on Low- and Middle-Income Countries. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. vol 222, no 5, pp 765-777. AND The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2020) Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.  
  4. World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage  
  5. www.wateraid.org