Fetching water – a Strenuous Obligation of Rural Women in India

For women there are no developed countries. Implied in this statement is the truth that women everywhere works for longer hours, the plight of poor rural women is rather worse. Every dawn brings with it a long search of fuel fodder and water. It does not matter if the women are old, young or pregnant, crucial household needs have to be met after weary day.

Traditionally, fetching water has been a woman’s job. The arduous task of fetching water is becoming nightmarish because of the underground water table and general ecological degradation. Fetching water is an extremely strenuous activity undertaken by rural women and it consumes an enormous amount of their time and energy. In Haryana where all the villages are provided with safe drinking water through community water supply since 1990, fetching water was found drudgery prone activity (Jindal: 1992). In the year 1999-2000, AICRP team of FRM conducted ergonomic evaluation of fetching water with the objective to see the risk involved in this activity.


The details of the procedure adopted for the above investigation is covered as fallow:
As the workload generally assumes to be modified by age, ten subjects each from the two age groups 20-30 yr. And 31-40 yr. were selected for the study on workload due to fetching water.
The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase all the home activities were tested for drudgery and fetching water was rated as most drudgery prone activity in the home sector. In the second phase ergonomic evaluation of fetching water was done which is discussed in this paper.
The experiment of fetching water by 20 physically fit women was carried out both in the morning and evening in two ways:
a) By sub-dividing the activity:
i. Onward journey to the source with empty vessel(s).
ii. Drawing/ pumping water.
iv. Backward journey with filled vessel(s) to the storage place in the home.
The observations were recorded for each sub-activity separately, for every min minimum for 20 minutes or till the activity is complete, which ever was earlier.
Before the subject started the onward journey to the source, her resting heart rate/min for 5 minutes were recorded. She was made to walk up to the water source. During the activity, intend down the working heart rate/min and RPE. Then she was given rest and recorded the Recovery Heart Rate/min and RPE for a minimum of 10 min or till complete recovery.
Similarly, the observations were recorded for (b) Drawing and pumping water (c) Backward journey with filled vessel(s).
b) As a complete cycle:
Fetching water was carried out completely in one cycle i.e. from onward journey with empty vessel(s) till she reached back and unloaded the filled vessel(s) at her destination. During the experiment, her working HR and Resting HR were recorded every minute till recovery.

Research Associate,
Department of Family Resource Management, I.C. College of Home Science, CCS Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar

Physiological Stress Assessment
The physiological stress of the activity was done using heart rate count per minute. Women attend to the activity of fetching water in the morning and evening. Therefore heart rate measurements were taken by tying the heart rate monitor in morning and in the evening.
Bio-mechanical Assessment (analysis of the postural bends)
Posture is the orientation of the person’s body parts of the work place arrangement so that the work is performed with ease. In activities involving flexi-curve was used to measure the spinal cord profile in the normal; position and it was drawn on white paper by marking cervical and lumber regions. Postural bends were taken in the identified body positions for each part of the activity using flexi-curve in the similar way and the deviation at the lumber region was analyzed for each age group against the normal position in standing.

Measurement of Physiological Workload was done with the help of formulae given by Varghese et al (1994) as fallow:

Energy expenditure (kj/min) = 0.159 xAHR-8.72
Energy expenditure (Kilo calorie /min)= 0.039AWHR
TCCW ( Total Cardiac Cost of Work ) = Cardiac Cost of Work(CCW)+Cardiac Cost of Recovery (CCR)
CCW = Average Heart Rate (AHR) x Duration of Activity
AHR = Average Working Heart Rate (AWHR) – Average Resting Heart Rate ( ARecHR)
CCR = Average Recovery Heart Rate( ARecHR)- Average Resting Heart Rate (AWRHR)
PCW = TCCW/Total time of Activity

Physiological Workload Index
Rating on Perceived Exertion
Very light 1
Light 2
Moderate 3
Heavy 4
Very Heavy 5


Activity profile
a) Type of vessel: Earthen pitcher was used mainly to fetch water (80%) followed by brass tokni (20%). However, the trend in rural areas is that they generally use brass tokni to fetch water but empty it into earthen pot after return. A brass tokni weighs on an average 3 kg whereas earthen pitcher ranged from 6-7 kg. However to fetch drinking water only earthen pitcher was used (Table1).
b) Mode of carrying load: Head load was the only mode of carrying water to home. A woman carried one vessel at a time having a load of 5.8 kg during onward journey while she carried 24.2 kg (with water filled vessel) during return journey (Table 1).In a similar study conducted by Hyderabad AICRP team reported shoulder as the mode of fetching water( Annual Report,2002).
c) Number of vessels: On an average, a woman fetched 23 vessels of water daily in summer i.e. 17 in the morning and 6 in the evening (Table 1). This water requirement was for the purpose of cooking, cleaning, washing and bathing of self, family members and many times for animals, too. Hence, she had to make 23 trips per day to fetch water.
d) Time spent: An average woman spent 6 min. per trip to fetch one vessel of water to home (Table 1). Hence, the total time spent per day on fetching water was 138 min. This indicates that she spends 105 man-days in a year to fetch water. Further, she could bring ten vessels of water in an hour.
e) Distance traveled: A woman traveled a distance of 0.25 km per cycle of fetching water (Table 1). This depicts that she had to travel 5.75 km in a day only for fetching of water.
f) Speed of walking: A woman walked speed of 2.8 km/hr during onward journey of fetching water while it was 3.5km/hr for backward journey. The walking speed of the woman increased while backward journey because she carried a head load and wanted to ease herself by finishing the task as early as possible.

Physiological Stress
Physiological stress of women respondents was determined on the basis of various parameters like average and peak heart rate, energy expenditure, total cardiac cost of work and rating of perceived exertion while performing the activity. This is discussed as under:
a) Heart Rate: Table 2 reveals that average and peak heart rate of women was observed to be 103.7 bpm-1 and 111.3 bpm-1 while fetching water during morning hours for the complete cycle. However, there was a slight increase in average and peak heart rate (104.6 bpm-1, 111.4 bpm-1) during evening hours even though maximum vessels of water were fetched in the morning (17 vessels). The reason for the same could be due to gradual increase in fatigue as the day progresses. Both average and peak heart rate was maximum during drawing of water among both the age groups in the evening viz., 21-30 years (122.5 bpm-1 and 123.1 bpm-1) and 31-40 years (127.4 bpm-1 and 129.5 bpm-1) (Fig.1).

Fig.1 Relationship between heart rate and energy expenditure
b) Energy expenditure: Energy expenditure calculated on the basis of average and peak heart rate was found to the extent of 7.7 Kj/min and 9.0 KJ/min. respectively during morning hours. However, energy expenditure increased with the increase in age and as the day progressed to the evening (7.8 KJ and 8.9 KJ/min). It was determined to be maximum while drawing water (10.7 KJ/min) followed by backward journey (8.35 Kj/min.) (Table2). The reason may be that they were drawing water with the help of hand-pump fitted over the water supply tap due to low pressure, which required more physical efforts for fetching water. A significant positive correlation existed between energy expenditure and time spent during backward journey both in the morning and evening (Fig.1).
c) Physiological workload: The average working heart rate increased up to 35% over rest causing stress. This could be perhaps due to manual lifting and carrying loads. The work joules (calories expenditure) indicated 8.4 kj/min or 2.0 Kcal (Kilo calories) and 37.6Kj/min or 8.67 Kcal/hr which were well within the acceptable limits of a healthy worker performing the same work for an 8 hr schedule.
d) Physiological cost of work( PCW): Physiological cost of work was determined on the basis of TCCW and duration of activity. TCCW was assessed as 253.2 and 280.8 beats among two age groups respectively for the complete cycle of fetching water during morning hours. However, it was calculated as 243.8 and 276.8 beats during evening respectively (Table 3.). Unlike heart rate and energy expenditure TCCW also showed an increasing trend with the increase in age. Physiological cost of work was determined to be maximum during drawing water (73.3bpm-1).
-74.3bpm-1). The activity was perceived moderately heavy on the RPE score. Again the HYDERABAD AICRP team showing higher heart rate, higher peak heart rate, higher energy expenditure made contradictory results and the fetching water was perceived as heavy activity
(AICRP:2001-2002). It can be understand that the work “Water Fetching” is moderate heavy for the women in terms of subjective rating on perceived exertion and physical cost of work. By this it can be inferred that the energy wasted in supporting the losd is greater than the energy required completing the task as no technical device be used. Therefore alternative technical tools could be planned to give mechanical advantage to this manual work.

Bio-mechanical assessment
a) Postural Analysis: The spinal curvature at cervical and lumbar regions was recorded while onward journey, drawing water and backward journey during fetching water.
i) Frequency of postural change: Bending posture was adopted for maximum number of times (40) while fetching water closely followed by standing posture. Bending posture was adopted for maximum time during drawing of water from the hand-pump (Fig.2.)
ii) Spinal curvature at cervical and lumbar region: Table 4. Show the average cervical and lumbar angles obtained while onward, backward journey &drawing water by women during fetching water. These angles were recorded to study the effect of bending on anterior & posterior spinal curvature. Percentage deviation in the cervical region from the normal position was assessed to be 1.7 % and 7.3 % while drawing water among women belonging to two age groups viz., 21-30 yr. & 31-40 yr. It was 2.9 and 3.1% respectively in two age groups during backward journey respectively.
In lumbar region, percentage deviation from normal position was quite significant in case of drawing water among both age categories (10.0% and 8.9 % respectively). It was assessed to be 2.9 and 3.5 percent during backward journey for the women belonging to 21-30 yr. and 31-40 yr. of age respectively. It is evident that the anterior- posterior spinal increases during carrying load while it decreases during drawing water. Respondents complained of fatigue during work and also towards the end of the day. Postural stress could be a causative factor for high physiological cost and fatigue. This might lead to vertebral column related injuries or health problems in the long run which is evident from the body ache and pain.
Musculo -skeletal problems: To study the muscle-skeletal problems, a body map was used to analyze the magnitude of body pain of women while fetching water. Very severe to severe pain was reported in shoulder joints, upper back and lower arm specially while drawing water. While carrying load back home, pain was more evident in neck, upper arm, shoulder joints, upper leg, lower back and calf muscles. Carrying heavy loads for prolonged periods covering long distance were the risk factors and against the acceptable mode of manual material handling and therefore strain cervical, shoulder and lumber regions. The musculo skeletal disorder of ligaments, joints, spinal discs is a possibility to occur due to the aforesaid risk factors. Put the postural muscles under continuos contraction leading to muscular fatigue, and if it sustained for longer period will cause severe muscular injury.

An average woman carries a head load of 24.3 kg. and fetches 23 vessels of water per day. She covers a distance of 5.75 kms at a speed of 2.8km/hr during onward journey and 3.5 km/hr for backward journey of fetching water and spends 138 min per day. Physiological cost of work in terms of energy expenditure was found to be the extent of 7.7 kJ/min during morning hours. However, energy expenditure increases as the day progresses to the evening (7.8 kJ/ min) and also increases with the age. A significant positive correlation exits between energy expenditure and time spent during backward journey and also for drawing of water. While drawing water percentage deviation in the cervical region comes to 1.7 per cent and 7.3 per cent among women belonging to 20-30 yr. and 31-40 yr. of age groups. In lumber region deviation was to the extent of 10 and 8.9 per cent. A woman feels very sever to severe pain in shoulder joints, upper back and lower arm especially while drawing water. Pain is more evident in neck, upper arm, shoulder joints, calf muscles while carrying load back home.
It is important that a large-scale study is undertaken to investigate biomechanical disorders in fetching water,. establish causative factors and come up with solutions to minimise their cause. As, water carrying either on the head hip, back or shoulder has posture and biomechanical disorders associated with it. Solutions must be sort to alleviate these problems These may require new methods of transporting water.
Rick management strategies:
? It is generally considered that the load to be carried by women workers should not be more than 30 percent of her body weight
? Body should be in alignment during carrying water. Proper posture should be adopted while drawing and bringing water.
? Women should use other sources of water for different purposes, e.g. for drinking cattle irrigation ditches and pond water can be used. It will save the additional trips of water.
? Rain water harvesting, recycling wastewater and saving water losses, are some of the simple techniques, which can help stretch the smallest drop of water.
? It is required to provide the water in the household premises to illuminate the drudgery and fatigue of the rural women. Haryana State, Government is pledged to provide the water supply within the household premises of all the villagers.
? Push Trolleys developed for fetching water by the Hyderabad AICRP team should be prorogated in the areas where the fetching water is drudgery prone activity.


? Annual Report 1999-2000. Ergonomics of Farm Women’s Drudgery – All India Co-ordinated Research Project in Home Science. Deptt. of FRM, COHS, CCSHAU, Hisar: 1-80.

? Annual Report 2001-2002.Ergonomics of Farm Women’s Drudgery- AICRP in FRM Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, Rajendranagar, Hyderabad: 1-95.

? Jindal, A.1992. Housing Needs in Content of Rural Women M.Sc. Thesis. Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar. 1-165.

? Varghese, M.A., Saha, P.N. and Atreya, N. 1994. A Rapid Appraisal Of Occupational Workload From A Modified Scale of Perceived Exertion. Ergonomics, 37(3): 485-491.