Volume 6, Issue 2 p. 208-221
Article

Water sharing, reciprocity, and need: A comparative study of interhousehold water transfers in sub-Saharan Africa

Alexandra Brewis

Corresponding Author

Alexandra Brewis

School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 85287 USA

Corresponding author: Alexandra Brewis; e-mail: [email protected]Search for more papers by this author
Asher Rosinger

Asher Rosinger

Department of Biobehavioral Health and Department of Anthropology, Penn State University, University Park, PA, 16802 USA

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Amber Wutich

Amber Wutich

School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 85287 USA

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Ellis Adams

Ellis Adams

Global Studies Institute and Department of Geosciences, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, 30303 USA

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Lee Cronk

Lee Cronk

Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 08901 USA

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Amber Pearson

Amber Pearson

Department of Geography, Environment and Spatial Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, 48824 USA

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Cassandra Workman

Cassandra Workman

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA

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Sera Young

Sera Young

Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 60208 USA

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Household Water Insecurity Experiences-Research Coordination Network (HWISE-RCN)

Household Water Insecurity Experiences-Research Coordination Network (HWISE-RCN)

HWISE-RCN coauthors: Mobolanle Balogun, Michael Boivin, Jessica Budds, Shalean Collins, Mathew C. Freeman, Asiki Gershim, Leila Harris, Wendy Jepson, Kenneth Maes, Patrick Mbullo, Joshua Miller, Chad Staddon, Justin Stoler, Yihenew Tesfaye, Alex Trowell, Desire Tshala-Katumbay, and Raymond Tutu

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First published: 31 January 2019
Citations: 32

Abstract

Water sharing between households could crucially mitigate short-term household water shortages, yet it is a vastly understudied phenomenon. Here we use comparative survey data from eight sites in seven sub-Saharan African countries (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda) to answer three questions: With whom do households share water? What is expected in return? And what roles do need and affordability play in shaping those transfers? We find that water is shared predominantly between neighbors, that transfers are more frequent when water is less available and less affordable, and that most sharing occurs with no expectation of direct payback. These findings identify water sharing, as a form of generalized reciprocity, to be a basic and consistent household coping strategy against shortages and unaffordability of water in sub-Saharan Africa.