Photographer Captures Differences in Water Access Around the World

Daily water use ranged from 16 gallons a day for a family of five in Africa, to 264 gallons for the photographer’s own family in New York City.
Photographer Captures Differences in Water Access Around the World
The Mahamadou family in Niger uses 16 gallons of water a day. (Photo by Ashley Gilbertson for UNICEF)

You turn on the tap, water comes out. Not that the value of water isn’t top of mind for Americans. Just look at areas dealing with persistent drought or water quality issues, like Flint, Michigan. But for most people, it isn’t usually a top concern upon waking up in the morning and getting started on the day’s tasks.

That was the feeling of photographer Ashley Gilbertson before taking on a project for UNICEF, in which he visited households across six countries to document the variations in water access that exist around the world. Gilbertson asked each family to tally their daily water usage. He then displayed that amount in plastic containers filled from the local source, and photographed the family alongside the containers. Gilbertson even did the same with his own family.

“I turn on the tap; water comes out. When you work with people who have to collect that water, you really feel the value of that resource. You actually feel it: It’s really heavy to carry,” Gilbertson told National Geographic.

Daily water use ranged from 16 gallons for the five people in the Mahamadou family in Niger to 264 gallons for Gilbertson’s three-member family in New York City. The massive difference speaks to the value of the work utilities do in the developed world to keep water flowing directly to customers’ taps.

According to, women and children around the world spend a collective 125 million hours gathering water every day.

“Water is a very gendered subject,” Lesley Pories, institutional partnerships manager at, told National Geographic. “In a society where water comes only at certain times of a day, one’s whole day is likely to revolve around water collection.”

Source: National Geographic


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