Clean water linked to rising birth rates in Africa, need arises for women's reproductive services

November 20, 2018, University of Bristol
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A researcher from the University of Bristol presented research at Parliament yesterday that recommends the consideration of more holistic interventions in the world's poorest countries.

An unintended consequence of water tap access in rural Ethiopian villages is .

The provision of a safe water supply increases child survival and improves women's health in these communities, but Dr. Mhairi Gibson, a Reader in Anthropology at Bristol, has discovered a subsequent rise in child malnutrition as village resources are strained by a booming population.

Dr. Gibson is presenting her study findings to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Population, Development and Reproductive Health (PDRH) yesterday (Monday 19 November), recommending that culturally appropriate family planning and reproductive services are combined in such future development interventions.

She said: "Increased birth rates in some resource-restricted environments can have negative consequences for the local community if it's not expected or planned. Assessing any unmet need for family planning should be a routine aspect of any intervention."

Population growth hampers the economic growth of the world's poorest countries, and with the recent move by the Trump administration to remove USA support from services across the world, Dr. Gibson thinks this is an opportunity for the UK government to step in and do more in this area.

The APPG for PDRH aims to stabilise the world's population through influencing the Department for International Development's development budget and policies to achieve universal access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Dr. Gibson said: "The goal is to get these key stakeholders to push the government for more investment in family planning.

"There's little known about the long-term impact of development projects in poor countries such as Ethiopia, and so projects such as ours are important for the honing of intervention policies."

In this particular project, the researchers tracked birth and in eight rural Ethiopian villages where taps were installed and found that infant mortality dropped dramatically, 50 percent for every month of life, but also that fertility rates had increased.

Previous studies have shown that female energy levels affect hormone levels and consequently fertility, and for women in the study, the elimination of a six-hour trek for water every day would have dramatically improved their energy levels. The long-term effect was an increase in family size.

In the 1,400 village households that took part in the study, tap installation led to scarcity of resources, and subsequent childhood malnutrition, biases in education and youth out-migration. The study results were published in the journal PLoS Medicine in 2006 and in PLoS ONE in 2012, but Dr. Gibson's team have continued to monitor to find out if there have been any wider downstream effects of the unexpected and unplanned growth in family size.

Dr. Gibson said: "Parents no longer have farmland to give to their children, so the only option is for the children to migrate out to the cities for work."

Dr. Gibson has seen first-hand the hugely positive impact the installation of water taps has in rural African villages, but because of the surprising increase in fertility and subsequent negative impacts on the community that her study revealed; she suggests that a different approach to developmental intervention might be more effective.

Dr. Gibson explained: "There are unforeseen consequences of development, but one way of getting around this issue is to do more community-based interventions. So rather than focusing on a single issue, for example providing , have a longer-term commitment to a community and deal with the full cross-section of community needs as they emerge."

Explore further: More women in poor countries use contraception, says report

More information: Mhairi A Gibson et al. An Energy-Saving Development Initiative Increases Birth Rate and Childhood Malnutrition in Rural Ethiopia, PLoS Medicine (2006). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030087

Mhairi A. Gibson et al. Rural to Urban Migration Is an Unforeseen Impact of Development Intervention in Ethiopia, PLoS ONE (2012). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048708

Related Stories

More women in poor countries use contraception, says report

November 12, 2018
More women and girls in poor countries are using modern contraception, signifying progress in efforts to involve women in family planning, according to a report released Monday.

Seeking the truth on female genital cutting

May 2, 2018
A new study by anthropologists at the University of Bristol will help campaigners to closely target their work in eradicating female genital cutting (FGC).

Adult survivors of childhood cancer are more likely to develop high blood pressure

November 22, 2017
People who survived childhood cancer were more than twice as likely as the general population to have high blood pressure (hypertension) as adults.

How about a vasectomy? Uganda wants more men to say yes

November 3, 2017
When Martin Owor, a father of six, told his wife he was considering having a vasectomy, she told him it was out of the question. How would they live as husband and wife after his surgical sterilization?

Life expectancy three years longer for children born into smaller families

January 27, 2016
Children born into smaller families in the world's poorest nations will live an expected three years longer than those born into larger families, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

Recommended for you

A co-worker's rudeness can affect your sleep—and your partner's, study finds

December 14, 2018
Rudeness. Sarcastic comments. Demeaning language. Interrupting or talking over someone in a meeting. Workplace incivilities such as these are becoming increasingly common, and a new study from Portland State University and ...

A holiday gift to primary care doctors: Proof of their time crunch

December 14, 2018
The average primary care doctor needs to work six more hours a day than they already do, in order to make sure their patients get all the preventive and early-detection care they want and deserve, a new study finds.

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.