Human and embodied energy analysis applied to water source protection and household water treatment interventions used in Mali, West Africa

R. Brendan Held



As water quality interventions are scaled up to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking water by 2015 there has been much discussion on the merits of household- and source-level interventions. This study furthers the discussion by examining specific interventions through the use of embodied human and material energy. Embodied energy quantifies the total energy required to produce and use an intervention, including all upstream energy transactions. This model uses material quantities and prices to calculate embodied energy using national economic input/output-based models from China, the United States and Mali. Embodied energy is a measure of aggregate environmental impacts of the interventions. Human energy quantifies the caloric expenditure associated with the installation and operation of an intervention is calculated using the physical activity ratios (PARs) and basal metabolic rates (BMRs). Human energy is a measure of aggregate social impacts of an intervention.

A total of four household treatment interventions – biosand filtration, chlorination, ceramic filtration and boiling – and four water source-level interventions – an improved well, a rope pump, a hand pump and a solar pump – are evaluated in the context of Mali, West Africa. Source-level interventions slightly out-perform household-level interventions in terms of having less total embodied energy. Human energy, typically assumed to be a negligible portion of total embodied energy, is shown to be significant to all eight interventions, and contributing over half of total embodied energy in four of the interventions. Traditional gender roles in Mali dictate the types of work performed by men and women. When the human energy is disaggregated by gender, it is seen that women perform over 99% of the work associated with seven of the eight interventions. This has profound implications for gender equality in the context of water quality interventions, and may justify investment in interventions that reduce human energy burdens.