A New Way to Think About Water: Household Water Insecurity

Project: Research project

Project Details


Water-related problems abound globally. From the impending drought in Cape Town1 to hurricane-induced flooding in Puerto Rico2 to toxic water in Flint, MI,3 billions of people suffer annually as a consequence of dangerous quantities and quality of water. Given that water is essential for human well-being, economic productivity, and peace, international institutions (e.g. the United Nations, World Economic Forum, and US government have) identified water insecurity as a critical issue for the 21st century. Precarious water access is implicated in a range of societal problems, including migration from Central America to the US, conflict in the Middle East, and sub-optimal child growth in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet scholarship on this critical issue has been stymied due to an inability to quantify water problems at the household level in a cross-culturally valid way. As such, it has been virtually impos-sible to compare and contrast how water insecurity impacts humanity. In response, my team and I have drawn on anthropological and global health techniques to de-velop a tool to fill this gap – the Household Water InSecurity Experiences (HWISE) Scale (hwise.org). The 12-item scale measures household water insecurity reliably and in a meaningfully comparable way from Caracas to Calcutta. This tool opens the door to effective and impactful new policy re-sponses and technological innovations. My goals as a Carnegie fellow are tightly aligned with the Carnegie mission and follow directly on the creation of the HWISE scale. First, I will use our scale to quantify relationships between household water insecurity and economic, health, and psychosocial outcomes in large studies in Tanzania, Lebanon, and Bangladesh. These results will be published in a suite of open-access scien-tific papers as well as in public thought pieces, e.g. op eds. Second, I will partner with a range of government and non-governmental organizations to disseminate the HWISE scale, to ensure that the measurement of household water insecurity becomes a meaningful part of the toolkit for moni-toring and evaluation societal well-being. This will take the form of a manual on implementation and use of the HWISE scale, as well as a policy brief. Taken together, these two activities will trans-form how we think about, monitor, and manage one of our most precious resources: water.
Effective start/end date8/1/197/31/22


  • Carnegie Corporation of New York (G-F-19-56912)


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.