Water and child health

The Impact of Access to Water on Child Health in Senegal

March 23, 2011

Speaker: Lindsey Novak

Every 15 seconds a child dies of waterborne diseases. Unsafe drinking water is a critical issue around the world as it increases the risk of cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and other diarrheal diseases (WHO 2010). As many as 90 percent of the deaths caused by diarrhea are among children under the age of five (UNWater 2008).

Marking the occasion of World Water Day, Lindsey Novak, Evaluation Officer at 3ie presented her research on the impact of access to water on child health in Senegal. Drawing on data from the Demographic and Health Survey (2005), Novak uses multinomial propensity score and genetic matching to explore which water sources produce the best child health outcomes. The five water sources analysed here were water piped into people’s homes, water piped into the yard or plot, public taps, protected wells and unimproved water sources like unprotected wells and surface water.

All the tested models showed similar results: Water piped into the yard caused less diarrhea than water piped into houses. “The private-public partnership in the 10 years before the survey had led to a large and rapid increase in household water connections in Senegal. My hypothesis is that perhaps the pipes installed inside the house were of a lower quality than those in the yard. The absence of water cleaning practices could be another explanation for this result,” said Novak.

Significantly, public taps and protected wells were found to have the same impact as unimproved sources of water. “These are interesting findings for NGOs and other organizations which advocate for public taps and protected wells. It is not just important to provide access to water, we need to do it with care,” Novak added.

The discussion highlighted other issues to be considered while conducting such an evaluation, which included: the health knowledge of parents, regional as well as urban-rural differences, water treatment practices and the use of other outcomes like infant mortality to assess child health.

Download Lindsey Novak's presentation (2.2 MB)

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