Water insecurity, illness and other factors of everyday life: A case study from Choma District, Southern Province, Zambia


  • Richard A Marcantonio Anthropology Department and Joan B Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, Hesburgh Center, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA




water, illness, perceptions, insecurity, environmental change


Recent reports from the UN find that 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people still live without. Other recent work demonstrates that 4 billion people annually face severe water scarcity as a result of seasonal fluctuations in water availability and quality. How is it that, despite the significant development in water resource availability documented by the UN, literally billions of people are regularly experiencing water insecurity? To begin to understand how a lack of access to reliable water resources affects everyday life, I focus on a specific outcome of water insecurity: waterborne illness. Given the difficulty in linking illness to a particular source, this research focuses on perceptions of water safety. I ask participants about illness they perceive coming from their drinking water, conducting face-to-face surveys (N = 224) spatially distributed around Choma town, Southern Province, Zambia. In particular, I investigate how these perceptions affect everyday life and what intersecting factors are likely to increase or decrease the probability of a person perceiving drinking water as the source of their illness. Our findings demonstrate that individual perceptions of waterborne illness are tightly coupled with perceptions of water needs being met or not, water flexibility (water storage capacity and water resource type and number available), total water use, food security and distance to various services. My work identifies and qualifies intersecting relationships that are critical to the design of any policy or other means of intervention intended to reduce experienced and perceived waterborne illness and other everyday needs of subsistence farmers facing the challenges presented by climate change and other forms of environmental change.


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How to Cite

Marcantonio, R. A. (2018). Water insecurity, illness and other factors of everyday life: A case study from Choma District, Southern Province, Zambia. Water SA, 44(4 October). https://doi.org/10.4314/wsa.v44i4.14



Research paper