In pursuit of â safe' water: The burden of personal injury from water fetching in 21 low-income and middle-income countries

Vidya Venkataramanan, Jo Anne L. Geere, Benjamin Thomae, Justin Stoler, Paul R. Hunter, Sera L. Young*

*Corresponding author for this work

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43 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction Water fetching for household needs can cause injury, but documentation of the burden of harm globally has been limited. We described the frequency, characteristics and correlates of water-fetching injuries in 24 sites in 21 low-income and middle-income countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. Methods In a survey of 6291 randomly selected households, respondents reported whether and how they had experienced water-fetching injuries. Responses were coded for injury type, mechanism, bodily location and physical context. We then identified correlates of injury using a multilevel, mixed-effects logistic regression model. Results Thirteen per cent of respondents reported at least one water-fetching injury. Of 879 injuries, fractures and dislocations were the most commonly specified type (29.2%), and falls were the most commonly specified mechanism (76.4%). Where specified, 61.1% of injuries occurred to the lower limbs, and dangerous terrain (69.4%) was the most frequently reported context. Significant correlates included being female (aOR=1.50, 95% CI 1.15 to 1.96); rural (aOR=4.80, 95% CI 2.83 to 8.15) or periurban residence (aOR=2.75, 95% CI 1.64 to 4.60); higher household water insecurity scores (aOR=1.09, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.10) and reliance on surface water (aOR=1.97, 95% CI 1.21 to 3.22) or off-premise water sources that required queueing (aOR=1.72, 95% CI 1.19 to 2.49). Conclusion These data suggest that water-fetching injuries are an underappreciated and largely unmeasured public health challenge. We offer guidelines for comprehensive data collection on injuries to better capture the true burden of inadequate water access. Such data can guide the design of interventions to reduce injury risk and promote equitable water access solutions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
JournalBMJ Global Health
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

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  • cross-sectional survey
  • injury
  • maternal health
  • public health


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