Document Type

Original Research


Building upon the stated success of the Millennium Development Goal to "halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water", Goal 6.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SD Gs) aims to "by 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all." However, 'access' as currently defined allows for a water source to be outside of the home, by tradition as much as 1 kilometer away. As a result, as many as 2.3 billion people live in households considered to have achieved 'access' but who remain reliant on water fetching, an onerous task that is disproportionately assigned to women and girls. This research first examines the question of access using as case studies two rural Lao villages, including the demographics of water fetchers, then employs a predictive energy expenditure model to analyze in detail the human energy costs associated with fetching water. Results show that, even where fetching distance is well within 1 kilometer, the daily human energy cost of water fetching is often a considerable proportion of daily caloric intake. Furthermore, other factors such as the age and gender of water fetchers and the nature of the terrain they must traverse play a large role in this energy cost, a fact that often obscures the true burden of water fetching. If the health and well-being objectives that lie at the heart of the SDGs are to be truly met, this reality will have to be acknowledged by development practitioners and water policy makers.