Growing d*ath toll, constant search for more missing peopleand the enormous cost of rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Ian shows the enormous difficulties for millions. With many Florida residents struggling to recover from the worst hurricane in a century, severity them water problems it is unquestionable.

Although this very visible crisis highlights the situation of one country water insecuritywater crises develop much more quietly around the world, often unnoticeable. The “invisible” experiences of too much, too little or poor quality water – undercooked meals, unwashed hands, thirsty nights – must be counted to understand the suffering of the water.

My research team in Northwest University, Gallupand University of South Carolina he captured these invisible experiences for the first time among half the world’s population in a few years article posted this week in Lancet health of the planet. 12 questions Scale of Individual Experiences Related to Water Insecurity (IWISE) was used to estimate that 436 million of the 3.06 billion adults in these countries were unsure of their access to water.

This first study of its kind provided a fresh perspective on the water sector. Historically, agencies have measured physical availability fresh water per capita in the region or infrastructure for the supply of drinking water.

Estimating water insecurity based on visible evidence alone conceals the suffering of hundreds of millions of people who try to bathe, feed and care for themselves and their families when faced with water problems.

Experimental measures fill some of the United Nations water data gaps High level panel on the waterbecause they are more holistic. For example, both Brazil and Egypt perform well in terms of infrastructure; national statistics estimate that 99 percent of people in both countries have at least a basic drinking water infrastructure. However, when water experiences were measured with the IWISE scale, only 73 percent of Egyptians and 84 percent of Brazilians were safe in the water.

In both countries, people experienced many water difficulties in the previous year; 65 percent reported water outages in Egypt and 46 percent in Brazil. In Brazil, 21 percent. was unable to wash the body, and 15 percent. in Egypt.

This is vital information necessary for political and investment decision-making by governments, companies, non-profit organizations, and development banks.

Another important finding is that water insecurity does not always occur where we might expect. Until now, the socio-demographic characteristics of uncertain water were unknown as most global indicators measure water at the catchment level.

In contrast, the IWISE scale measures water insecurity at an individual level, so it generates more accurate data, with surprising results.

We found that no single trait predicted who would be unsure of the water. Income tended to insure against a lack of access to water, but among the richest were those without access to water. In India, for example, 10 percent of women and 7 percent of men in the highest income quintile had no access to water.

Contrary to historical interpretations and conjectures, women have not consistently been more uncertain of waters than men. They are expected to like women are usually responsible for water abstraction and intensive work such as washing.

However, women were much more insecure in waters than men in only a few countries.

There is an urgent need to measure water insecurity experiences with water data availability and infrastructure which is already usually harvested in most countries.

A drop of water reflecting the map of the Earth.
GERARD JULIEN / AFP via Getty Images

It seems likely that measuring experiences of water insecurity along with race and ethnicity will provide compelling evidence of water disparity. This can support the pursuit of environmental justice by organizations such as NAACP and Environmental Protection Agency.

Some researchers are initially skeptical about measuring experiences of water insecurity. They look at the IWISE data and ask, “But are they really unsure about the water?”

This is because water has long been tracked by an observable phenomenon – the number of liters of water consumed per day or the way in which drinking water is supplied. These proxies are not working.

To see the value of empirical measures, it is enough to look at the innovations in measuring food security. Decades ago, food security was also tracked only by visible indicators – available calories per capita or child height.

Food safety measurements have evolved to capture the invisible. From 2014 experiences with food insecurity were measured annually in almost every country, as part of the flagship project of the United Nations “The state of food security and nutrition in the world“.

It is very important to similarly track experiences of water insecurity around the world.

Water uncertainty will increase in frequency and severity when infrastructure crumbles, water use rises, weather disasters abound and climate change makes the dry places drier and the wet ones wetter.

It is time to incorporate the unseen experiences of water insecurity into any discussion of a precious resource that none of us can live without.

Sera L. Young led development Weights of experiences related to the lack of water and is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

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