Water Safety and Inequality in Access to Drinking-water between Rich and Poor Households

February 22, 2013 · 0 comments

Water Safety and Inequality in Access to Drinking-water between Rich and Poor Households. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (3), pp 1222–1230.

Hong Yang *†, Robert Bain ‡, Jamie Bartram §, Stephen Gundry ‡, Steve Pedley , and James Wright †
† Geography and Environment, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, U.K.
‡ Water and Health Research Centre, Merchant Venturers Building, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1UB, U.K.
§ The Water Institute, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, United States
Robens Centre for Public and Environmental Health, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH, U.K.

While water and sanitation are now recognized as a human right by the United Nations, monitoring inequality in safe water access poses challenges. This study uses survey data to calculate household socio-economic-status (SES) indices in seven countries where national drinking-water quality surveys are available. These are used to assess inequalities in access as indicated by type of improved water source, use of safe water, and a combination of these.

In Bangladesh, arsenic exposure through drinking-water is not significantly related to SES (p = 0.06) among households using tubewells, whereas in Peru, chlorine residual in piped systems varies significantly with SES (p < 0.0001). In Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Nigeria, many poor households access nonpiped improved sources, which may provide unsafe water, resulting in greater inequality of access to “safe” water compared to “improved” water sources.

Concentration indices increased from 0.08 to 0.15, 0.10 to 0.14, and 0.24 to 0.26, respectively, in these countries. There was minimal difference in Jordan and Tajikistan. Although the results are likely to be underestimates as they exclude individual-level inequalities, they show that use of a binary “improved”/”unimproved” categorization masks substantial inequalities. Future international monitoring programmes should take account of inequality in access and safety.

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