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12 Dec 2023

The Interconnection between Poverty, Access to Clean Water, and the Role of Geology


Achmad Darul [1][2] dan Dasapta Erwin Irawan [1]

[1] Faculty of Earth Sciences and Technology, Institut Teknologi Bandung

[2] Faculty of Industrial Technology, Institut Teknologi Sumatera 

Water access (quantity and quality) and poverty are interconnected. This connection can be viewed from two perspectives. First, from the perspective of poverty, it affects the ability to access clean water. Second, the absence of clean water access can lead to poverty.

Perspective 1: Poverty that Reduces Access to Clean Water

Poverty can lead to a lack of access to clean water through various interconnected factors. Studies have shown a strong correlation between poverty and inadequate access to safe water sources, especially in rural areas (Mkondiwa et al., 2013). The percentage of the population without access to clean water has been used as a proxy for poverty, highlighting the close relationship between poverty and water access (Nene et al., 2014). This relationship is further emphasized by assessments of water resource system vulnerability, which indicate the impact of poverty on the availability and accessibility of clean water (Hamouda et al., 2009).

However, it is important to note that although there is a clear relationship between poverty and lack of access to clean water, some studies focus more on other aspects such as energy poverty and the suitability map of rainwater harvesting, which are not directly related to the impact of poverty on water access (Shadeed et al., 2019; Al-Tal et al., 2021). Poverty significantly contributes to the lack of access to clean water, especially in vulnerable rural communities. The interaction between poverty and water access highlights the need for interventions and policies that specifically target addressing both of these issues simultaneously, thereby improving the overall well-being and livelihoods of affected populations.

Poverty will involve purchasing power to buy clean water or purchase services that can bring clean water (such as installing a PDAM pipeline or buying a house in an area with clean water services). If residents cannot afford to buy water or its services, then clean water cannot be accessed.

The deeper issue is that poor individuals generally gather to form slum areas. These areas are usually not intended to be residential areas from the beginning. As a result, these areas lack access to clean water networks, unlike other regions that are specifically designed for habitation.

The situation is exacerbated by the increase in new poor residents due to urbanization. This will further worsen the quality of slum areas. The burden on the clean water network/services becomes heavier, as the government has a limited budget.

Perspective 2: Lack of access to clean water leading to poverty

The lack of access to clean water is a significant factor in causing poverty. The scarcity of clean water sources affects various aspects of life, especially in developing countries. It has been observed that individuals in rural areas are more vulnerable to using contaminated water sources, exacerbating the impact of poverty (Adelodun et al., 2021). The poor often identify the lack of access to water as the main cause of poverty, emphasizing the importance of improving water access to reduce poverty (Mkondiwa et al., 2013). Furthermore, the lack of access to clean water remains a major problem in various regions, providing an important measure of poverty (Nene et al., 2014). The impact of water scarcity on agriculture and food production further exacerbates malnutrition and poverty, especially in water-stressed regions (Falkenmark, 2013). In addition, the spread of waterborne diseases is often associated with poverty, limited resources, and low socioeconomic status, highlighting the detrimental effects of inadequate water access on public health and economic well-being (Collins & Duffy, 2018).

Residents receive low education, including education about clean water, due to poverty. Accustomed to living with limited resources and lack of education, residents do not understand the importance of clean water. Furthermore, with limited education, job opportunities become scarce, resulting in low income. This creates a cycle that repeats itself.

Due to a lack of access to clean water, the residents’ health is compromised. Frequent illnesses lead to a decrease in their quality of life. Their ability to think, study, and work also declines. As a result, their achievements suffer. This narrows their opportunities to improve their fate through education or decent employment, making them vulnerable to being expelled from school or losing their jobs. Consequently, the residents become impoverished.

From a different perspective, limited access to clean water can also lead to poverty. Although the route may be longer, the root cause is structural poverty or inherited poverty.

Structural poverty

Structural poverty creates a cycle that perpetuates further poverty and decreases access to clean water. The interplay between poverty and water access is complex and multifaceted. Studies have shown that the lack of access to clean water is often linked to poverty, with the Water Poverty Index (WPI) being used as a tool to assess water stress in impoverished areas (Koirala et al., 2020). The dynamics of poverty and water access are further exemplified in regions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), where land reform and poverty intertwine with access to clean water sources (Nene et al., 2014).

Additionally, the conceptual human-water dynamical model for coastal Bangladesh highlights the water-poverty trap, emphasizing the intricate relationship between water availability, poverty, and environmental conditions (Borgomeo & Salehin, 2017). Furthermore, the appraisal of service level indicators for water supply systems underscores the significance of access to adequate water supply as a key strategy to alleviate poverty (Oluwasanya et al., 2021). The development of GIS-based water poverty and rainwater harvesting suitability maps in the Dead Sea region further emphasizes the environmental, socioeconomic, and political factors contributing to water poverty (Shadeed et al., 2019). These findings collectively demonstrate the intricate relationship between structural poverty and its role in perpetuating further poverty while decreasing access to clean water.

The role of geology

To understand the connection between geology, access to clean water, and poverty, it is essential to recognize the influence of geology on water quality and availability. Geology plays a crucial role in determining the quality of surface and groundwater, which directly impacts access to clean water (Reimann et al., 2009). The influence of geology on inorganic stream water quality has been well-documented, highlighting the importance of considering geological factors in assessing water quality (Reimann et al., 2009). Additionally, the physical environment, including geology, has a significant impact on the availability and quality of groundwater resources (Hamilton & Paulson, 1968).

Access to clean water is closely linked to poverty alleviation, as it is recognized as one of the key strategies to alleviate poverty (Oluwasanya et al., 2021). Lack of access to safe water and adequate sanitation services, especially in developing countries, often results in adverse health outcomes, contributing to the cycle of poverty (Orebiyi, 2010). Therefore, ensuring access to clean and adequate water is crucial for improving overall health and well-being, particularly in impoverished communities (Özkaya & Yildiz, 2021).

Furthermore, the relationship between geology and water quality has implications for sustainable management of water supply systems. Surficial geology and topography have been identified as influential factors in the connectivity between upland soils and receiving waters, emphasizing the need to consider geological characteristics in water quality assessment and management (Brown et al., 2011). Moreover, the role of geology in creating stream climate-change refugia along climate gradients underscores the importance of understanding geological influences on water systems in the context of environmental sustainability (Ishiyama et al., 2022).

The relationship between geology, access to clean water, and poverty is multifaceted. Geology significantly influences water quality and availability, which in turn impacts access to clean water. Addressing the geological factors affecting water systems is essential for sustainable water management and poverty alleviation efforts.