Publication Date

Spring 2016

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Leslie North (Diector), David J. Keeling, and Jason Polk

Degree Program

Department of Geography and Geology

Degree Type

Master of Science


Depleted water supplies, along with industrial and human waste, are driving a world water crisis that poses a growing risk to food markets, energy production, political stability, and human health (Global Water Security 2012). One obvious example of the this crisis is the more than 1 billion people who obtain their drinking water from contaminated sources (WHO/UNICEF 2006; Clasen et al. 2008). With a projected increase of 1.3 billion people between now and 2050, Africa will add more to the global population than any other world region (Haub and Kaneda 2013). For this research, visual learning design factors were incorporated into water literacy materials in order to study ways in which cultural and societal barriers can be overcome through culture- and gender-appropriate graphics designed to foster visual storytelling in the West African country of Niger. Women were targeted as the study population since they are the primary water fetchers and handlers in sub-Saharan Africa. Eye-tracking technology and GIS tools were used for quantification of the visual design characteristics. Research was conducted in 23 villages along the Niger River, and included 510 interviews, 693 focus group participants, 9 different cultural groups, over 30 hours of audio interviews, and 464 eye-tracking trials. Tobii X2-60 eye-tracking equipment was used in bush maternity wards, medicinal depositories, and mud-brick homes. Eye-tracking data were imported into an ArcGIS platform, where kernel density estimation (KDE) analyses were performed in an effort to compare and contrast the KDE of varying education levels, age groups, ethnic groups, and village types. Spatial autocorrelation analyses were used to evaluate whether the spatial pattern of attribute values (fixation time) was clustered, dispersed, or random. Results from this research suggest that visual communication can be used to overcome low education and cultural barriers for waterborne disease prevention. Using an adaptive visual-learning approach for the research method provided a creative alternative to conventional water-education materials, as most do not consider mother tongue and low literacy. Through visual communication, a novel way has been developed to understand how disadvantaged populations in sub-Saharan Africa visually process water literacy materials.


Environmental Education | Environmental Health and Protection | Health and Physical Education | Water Resource Management