The WISE Scales: A New Way to Measure Water Insecurity

FROM: Becky Neely , John Brogan - 22. August 2022

There are dozens of tools to keep tabs on the safety and quantity of water flowing to communities around the world. Satellites can remotely monitor the flow of water. Simple chemical tests can reveal water quality. Groundwater monitoring systems can track the volume of supply throughout the year. Do we really need another water indicator?

The answer is yes. Though numerous indicators focus on the physical availability and safety of resources, no cross-culturally equivalent scales exist to measure water insecurity at the household level. 

The newly developed Water Insecurity Experiences (WISE) Scales were created to fill this gap by a collaboration of 50 cross-disciplinary scholars and practitioners, led by Northwestern University. To date, the scales have been implemented in at least 50 countries by more than 100 organizations.

The scales are comprised of 12 survey questions that capture the frequency of problems with access, use and reliability of water for daily needs ranging from cooking to handwashing. The scales also consider the emotional toll that accompanies these problems. The results are revealing gender, age and education disparities in water access and use that have long been obscured by traditional measures.

Adapting the scales for schools and health centers

Though implementation of the scales is widespread, they were not designed for institutions, and thus far have focused on increasing understanding of water insecurity at the individual and household level. Helvetas is collaborating with the Swiss Water and Sanitation Consortium (SWSC) and Northwestern University to adapt the scales for use in evaluating experiences of those working in and receiving services from schools and health care facilities.

The eight members of the SWSC work in 176 schools and 50 health care facilities in 11 countries, most of which are in rural locations. Northwestern University will lead the development of scales that can be used in schools to measure the perceptions and experiences about water, sanitation, hand hygiene and waste. SWSC members will support testing with teachers, students and parents in schools and clinical and non-clinical staff in health centers.

Learn more at World Water Week

Helvetas will join Northwestern University, FAO, IFPRI and other organizations in presenting a virtual session on the WISE Scales at the 2022 World Water Week. The session will showcase how the scales have been valued by governments, NGOs and scientists across the globe, and will conclude with an interactive training on their use. The learning event is free to attend and takes place August 24 at 1pm CEST.


Further reading

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