The United Nation estimates that if all housing could be brought to a minimum acceptable standard, there would be five million fewer deaths and two million fewer permanent disabilities annually on a global basis.
It is estimated that one in four of the world’s population does not have access to clean drinking water and that in many developing countries, about 50 percent of the urban population does not have water within 200 meters of their dwelling.
In the least developed countries, 53 percent lack access to water, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure goes as high as 59 percent. Some countries such as Congo have as much as 80 percent without access to safe water.
In such situations, it is generally the women and older girls who have to provide water. In some parts of rural Africa, women have to use as much as 85 percent of their daily energy intake in fetching water. In these regions, 40 percent of non-pregnant women and 63 percent of pregnant women are anemic (due to a combination of poor diet and heavy work loads).
Medical research has documented cases of permanent damage to women’s health directly attributed to carrying water — among them spinal and pelvic deformities, and degenerative rheumatism. More immediate problems include exposure to water-borne diseases, chronic fatigue and the threat of miscarriage for pregnant women.
Since women often have to work in or near the home, they are the most affected by failures in planning housing and settlement projects.
Examples of bad urban planning that fail to consider women’s needs are: the absence of day-care facilities; the inappropriate location of public water points in poor communities; the lack of children’s play parks; inadequate lighting of streets and public areas; costly and inconvenient public transportation facilities; and “modern” housing designs that do not take into consideration women’s traditional use of space.
Zoning laws that prohibit economic activities and food-growing in residential areas particularly hurt women’s income-producing strategies.
“Women’s needs, along with those of men and children, can only be adequately met if women and men participate equally in human settlements planning and management at community, local and national levels,” says Dr. N’Dow.