For rural women in the world’s drylands, life is defined by the burden of collecting water. For the old and the young, the sick and the healthy, it is a chore with no relief. Even when pregnant, women must trek over long distances in order to provide their families with water.

The strain of this arduous task can have terrible health consequences for pregnant women. Often alone, some women give birth on the journey to or from water points. In Ukambani, Kenya, the children of these women are commonly called Mwanzia, which means ‘born on the way.’

But, for some women, the consequences are worse still. Far away from family or medical help, women can miscarry or deliver their babies stillborn. We recently spoke to Jane Kinongo, a member of the Ithime self-help group in Kenya, who told us something of the problems rural women face.

"We had to fetch water even when having labour pains. Sometimes someone would miscarry or have a stillbirth at home due to the long distance."

Jane Kinongo, a member of the Ithime self-help Group, Kenya.

Jane said: “As women it was our duty to fetch water using our back. We would even go to fetch water while pregnant and when having labour pains. Sometimes someone would miscarry or have a still birth at home due to the long distance.”

Rural women make vital contributions in agriculture and rural enterprises in all developing countries. Yet, wherever they work, women face constraints that reduce their productivity and limit their contributions to agricultural production, economic growth and the well-being of their families, communities and countries.

Not least of these constraints are a lack of time and the health impacts suffered by the necessity of collecting water from remote sources. Jane told us that: "After giving birth one would be back on the trek after three days. Women also had many problems with excessive bleeding since we used to carry jerrycans with our back after birth."

Jane has lived in the same region since 1982. With her self-help group, she has helped build seven sand dams, bringing water closer to home for many families in her community. Jane said: “Since the construction of the dams, life has changed dramatically because we now draw water closer to our homes. The health problems (women) faced then have ceased to exist... now the women can rest for three months after giving birth... the problems faced in 1982 are never."

For those children born on the way, women like Jane are building a new way of life in rural Kenya. A life in which women no longer give birth alone, far from home, on a journey to find water. A life in which the name Mwanzia will become ever rarer.

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