Water sharing is a distressing form of reciprocity
08 July 2022
Collecting water Sudan. Photo credit: LSHTM


A recent paper ‘Water sharing is a distressing form of reciprocity: Shame, upset, anger, and conflict over water in twenty cross-cultural sites’ published in American Anthropologist, challenges the theory that reciprocity is associated with positive emotions when considered in the context of water sharing.

The Household Water Insecurity Experiences Research Coordination Network (HWISE RCN) conducted face-to-face interviews in 20 diverse communities in Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia where water sharing was known to occur.  Survey questions included the household water situation (unmet need), water-sharing activities (giving or receiving) and water-related shame, upset, anger, or conflict. Data were analysed through mixed-effects logistic regression models.

The proportion of households that reported giving water in the previous four weeks ranged from 7.2% to 83.2%, and those receiving water ranged from 10.6% to 88.3%.  Overall, 44.5% of households neither gave nor received water.

The results indicate that compared to households that did not participate in water sharing, households that either received or gave water have higher odds of reporting distress and negative emotions (shame, anger, upset, and conflict). These findings were consistent across global sites.

This paper builds on work from the IMMANA grant ‘HWISE: A novel tool for the assessment of household-level water insecurity: scale refinement, validation, and manual development’

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